Spanish Language

What do We Really Talk about When We talk about Spanish in the US. Of A?

What do We Really Talk about When We talk about Spanish in the US. Of A?

By Fernando Gómez Herrero (fgh2173@gmail.com).


It takes courage to look into an abyss of institutional logic inside capitalist crisis in the immediacy of academic environments side by side the “Spanish” sign and one must always already bear in mind collective dimensions. I wanted to gather some thoughts after the presentation with the title “What do We Really Talk about When We Talk about Spanish in the US of A?” that took place at Harvard some time ago. This reflection would like to be something like a survivalist ethos in these trying times and humor is very much needed, a gallows type surely. Lucidity must be invoked, particularly in relation to the journalistic pieces that will immediately follow always already within the hegemonic modus operandi of cynical market ideology. It is here where the stoking of the ashes of the critical intelligence must take place, particularly since we inhabit structures of lack of care. Let us begin with three jokes.

The first joke has to do with the most common type of relationship with institutionality. Say, you want to date someone, and you go and say, hey, babe, what about you and me? I like you, I see you need someone to teach some classes, I am willing to put down my time, effort, knowledge and my five dollars’ worth acquired in the last twenty years. Let us make it work. And she says, great, thanks for the interest, but I do not really need that much, I want some of your time, not your full time, and some of your worth, three dollars out five, and I will pay you accordingly, no need for elaborate ceremonies, let us make it casual and occasional, a part-time arrangement, strictly short-term, and we take it from there, and let us call it the new normal. And while this is happening, you ascertain that the institution in question (the allegorical girl) is also seeing other suitors, taking advantage of their relative inexperience, foreign status, or more modest academic achievement, while being paid as much as you, as though twenty years’ experience inside the American education system meant little to nothing. Hence, the institutional girl is a bad one, a market-cynical one, and she is dating down so to speak, and that she is giving them a little bit of love and a little bit of money. Institutionality does not really care about longevity, training, experience, proper bilingual beauties, publications and the money you are making is no living wage. This garbage contract, even unemployment, is the “new normal” –and since when?– for the immense majority of foreign-humanities practitioners. Institutions are thus acting like pimps taking advantage of increasingly global traffic sourcing labor, “deskilling” it from within, with precious few regulations or collective bargaining. The capitalist institution is deliberate about the establishment of discontinuities in the labor force, making these working units cheaper, interchangeable, expendable, creating revolving doors, evacuating intellectual richness and social experience structurally from within. Zizek speaks of the sadistic logic of the institution claiming otherwise. This is the predicament, the greasy pole so to speak, bringing your life down to the ever so precarious institutionalization of such lightness of being intellectual and academic thinning out inside higher-education structures embedded within capitalist exchanges, labeled not for profit, inside official moments of financial crisis. The current moment exposes the stark, naked, plain, ugly core. Bureaucratization of “education” makes it increasingly thinned out and lighter, content-immaterial, virulently short-term and anti-historical, banalized or infantilized, the socialization we must imagine is the one within the horizon of customers and consumers and of increasing poverty of rhetorical diction.

The second joke has to do with “racial profiling,” or an increased awareness to social typology in your immediate professional environment, within a perception of an inherited standard sensibility in the early 1970s, call it Michael-Novakian if you wish, of assimilation model in American society that is hardly over. I am exaggerating to prove the point, and one good liberal parallel of intersecting lines would be the urban sociology of the former Senator for New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Here “Hispanic” barely registers. In relation to both authors not of my liking necessarily,I have picked an accessible, journalistic, type of approach that refuses to euphemize traumatic Americanization. I find such approach ideologically undesirable, and yet potentially more valuable and productive than the standard, bland affirmation of cultural-difference, typically leaving the largest template untouched or the official frames intact.

Put these two examples of popular culture in your back pocket in the immediate historical circumstance of the U.S. which defines who you are, whether you like it or not: The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in the Seventies (1971) by Novak side by side visualization of social groups in police films such as French Connection and Serpico. The argument is that the social terminology of majority-minority, “white” and something else, not yet “Hispanic,” or incipiently “Hispanic,” must begin about forty years ago, in the Nixonian moment, of relatively open social self-questioning. So, this second joke would have a Colombian, a Mexican and a Spaniard finding themselves teaching intermediate Spanish-class courses in the undergraduate college in the New England setting inside the Novakian-inherited assimilation models admitting to the violence of the process with no edulcoration or euphemisms.  The anecdote could be anything. It does not matter. The running joke could have the standard joke format of competing ethnic affiliations poking fun at stereotypes against the American normalization typically absent from the immediate interaction and oftentimes in the Spanish-language only dutifulness and you must pay increasing attention to who is around, and who is not, inside those low institutional floors, and the tremendous precariousness of the “cultural diversity” of such institutionalized association will not be missed, something of the grittiness of the Novakian ethnic whiteness alluded to in those films has surely something to do with “Hispanic.” These cop dramas are law-and-order fantasies of social repression. And yet there is the most interesting dimension of the circulation and recreation of the visual tension of social relations inside a system that is irresolutely broken, impossibly corrupt beyond any dream-like redemption. I repeat that my feeling is that some historical “conservative” assimilation-model addressing inequalities and violences with no easy resolution, and the tense play of those “differences,” is ethnographically more detailed and nuanced, richer and more politically productive, than the conventional and banal, “more liberal” theoretical defense, general affirmation and universal toleration of “cultural difference” of already existing categories, since the 1970s, typically without mounting a challenge to historical frames of social intelligibility.

You may add your favorite nationalities (Catalan, Castillian, Basque… Czech, Slovak and Slovenian, Irish and Italian in a Serpico type of setting, etc.) and you will still get something meaningful in relation to the most predictable social typologies doing what kind of object of knowledge production framed inside what conventional geography, or “area studies,” which populate the Spanish-language foreign-humanities business. I bet a dollar most subjects of knowledge production will be doing representational roles of their foreign nationalities with precious little variation games and instead predictable rigidity tied up to typification, or tokenization, of “minority” candidates firmly within allocations of subject and objects of knowledge production. There is an embellishment not to be missed: the accumulation of markers of cultural difference added on the same bodies occupying receding spaces within deskilling and cheapening working conditions and how such bodies are preferably coming from modest middle-classes, provincial locations, domestically or overseas, ideally with little, or even better, no knowledge of the imperial language. The “minority” candidates now typically accumulate two or three markers of “cultural difference,” since allocated spaces are receding. The ironic beauty is thus enhanced when you get to see how the institution simultaneously, deliberately empties out the social pool of historical, social, intellectual experience inside the dominant liberal ideology of interchangeable subjects of relative detachment from determinations of time and place, what I call the construction of the nomadic monad or the monadic nomad. Isn’t this one quintessential phantasmagoria of a certain ideology of Americanism that puts itself thus as model number-one against the cumbersome, thick, historical texture of the rest of the world becoming thinner and lighter, and thus “American”? Structurally, decades of experience and training, Ph.D. achievement, publication record, are put together in the same pay-scale-per-course part-time short-term employability with those newly arrived from overseas desperate for work of any kind. Education institutions deal with education professionals seasonally in the same manner agriculture deals with strawberry pickers or “landscape management” deals with its manual labor, and I am building the “Spanish” analogy deliberately, highlighting inherited social division of academic and intellectual labor. Who is protesting in the open?

The third joke, which I would like to call “tonto con hache,” has to do with a certain bombast of self-advertisement that I tend to find in the Spanish press, perhaps as some form of over-compensation for genuinely demoralizing situations of contemporaneity.Check this out: “El idioma español, en la cima del universo” by Antonio Astorga (www.abc.es/20121011/cultura/abci-idioma-espanol-cima-universo-201210091600.html). This is preposterous and dangerous idiocy that should be challenged by courageous Spanish professionals in the U.S. and elsewhere. Where are they? The eloquent subtitle: “La lengua de Cervantes, detrás del mandarín, y por primera vez delante del inglés, entre las 7000 que existen.” The awkwardness, informality, agrammaticality of the first sentence says it all: “El español como huso (sic) idiomático ha alcanzado ya el rango de segunda lengua franca en este siglo. Sin pinganillos, el español es una fiesta.” The Spanish party? It reads like a grotesque joke. The joke is on us? The approach is crude, raw and quantitative (400 million, native speakers, 439 learners ), obtuse in the surreal celebration of the growth of Spanish irrespective of specific national environments, placing precisely the US as one locomotive of such monumental growth, which is far from true, certainly not institutionally so. This is solipsism and provincialism claiming otherwise and the U.S. situation is not understood at all. The Atlantic is wider than one would think.Strength in strong numbers necessarily? Also in relation to percentages of professionals? Well, it is here barely surviving institutionally and its majority of professionals are barely making a living inside decimated humanities spaces.   The projection: “Para el 2050, se calcula que el censo de hablantes del español en los EEUU será de 132.800.000 millones.” I wish. What about the institutional numbers in relation to students, completion of degrees, professionals making a decent living in universities and libraries, mass media, professional business settings, etc.? A second example, “España descubre el petróleo de la lengua,” by José Luis Barbería (elpais.com/diario/2007/03/24/babelia/1174696762_850215.html).

I am not faking the funk. There is no way around lucidity and intellectual honesty in the rendition of such lucidity, particularly so in the self-styled, number-one country of the world, typically undeterred by fact-checking, with or without the experience of the recent elections (“The Opiate of Exceptionalism,” by Scott Shane, www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/sunday-review/candidates-and-the-truth-about-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). So, if “they” claim to be on top of the linguistic universe –the Spanish marker, a marker of social prestige and high-culture recognition in the U.S.?-  “we” are on top of the universe in relation to everything else, provided we do not double-check information sources. The previous article includes the reference to Mark Rice’s Blog “Ranking America” (rankingamerica.wordpress.com/), who built it precisely to challenge such number-one obsessions ever so prevalent in the American psyche. Isn’t this number-one disposition sign of the closing of the American mind?, using Bloomian language, not necessarily endorsing its ethos. Humanists do not typically do numbers often, but they come handy sometimes. And it is the case, that numbers are invoked typically the vicinity of “Spanish:” demographics. Certainly.Yet what type of numbers and where?

I do not know about you but I want to stay truthful publicly to the intellectual crisis that is inside the capitalist crisis. There are three sections in what follows: 1/ the situation; 2/ larger contexts and interests; 3/ projections.

 

1/ The situation with which this presentation began: The visit. The excuse & the pretext if you wish, the Spanish-language promotion of the Spanish Prince Felipe de Borbón y Grecia at Harvard University last summer. There is a culture bite written about it, “Spain is an American Nation” (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=1331).  So we have the “soft-power” intervention inside the global-brand of prestigious university education environments by the foreign-national representative of the Constitutional Monarchy of the medium-size nation.

 

A few items: the interest of the history lesson against the conventional American grain –particularly here in the immediate context of New England and the dual city context of Boston and the “red republic” of Cambridge. Yes, there was a predictable universalism without the self-recognition language of imperialism, international law without colonialism, free trade without inequalities, renaissance of human creativity without darker sides, ever so amiable bi-national collaboration and Spanish/English kissy-kissy relations, but wait Anglos do not typically kiss in polite introductions… In fact, such (air) kissing is an elite-institution affectation that is not common practice in the American streets. And yet there was the good attempt to bring about some temporalities and chronologies, Spanish-language toponyms, pre-Mayflower, pre-Bostonia foundation possibilities, good.

There was thus the justified defense of a larger scope of vision apropos Spanish and Iberian imperialism and colonization of the Americas and the tinkering with the very nomenclature of “America,” one or two continents, or twenty-two? (I repeat, of course the words imperialism and colonization were missing in action, and you may pause to think how many national representatives do you get to see out there waxing eloquently about these nouns in relation to their own nations?). The continental numbering is always a good pedagogic trick to get your students and your carefree colleagues tangled up in the historical blues. Prince Felipe’s march of history, call it discreet, polite, smooth Hegelianism of the triumphant West is atypical for most Americans in the sense that it must incorporate “Spain” in a tighter manner to the U.S. The title plays with the bilingual “confusions” of hemispheric, from Alaska-to-Patagonia America and typically U.S.-only English-idiomatic America cut off from the rest of the larger dimension that breaks down into “two” continents, North and South (Spanish language still remains mono-continental in relation to the land erroneously attributed to Americo Vespucci). Spain, is one of my darling nations, one. It is clearly not the center of interest, not even in relation to Spanish. And this was the core of interest in Prince Felipe’s speech dealt with with some care in the aforementioned culture bite. It was overall a good performance. Good English, which is more than I can say about the immense majority of the representatives of such nation currently under some turmoil. How many of these representatives could say gracefully Gene “Popeye” Hackman line “ever picked your feet at Poughkeepsie and mount a comparable 1970s attitude? Prince Felipe did it diplomatically. So, yes, there was a bit of a quaint, unusual Europe, from a US perspective. A quaint institution (Monarchy, Prince and Princess with some name recognition, not much). No mention of popular Americana, no French connection, Fernando Rey, who plays the “bad” French guy antagonizing Hackman. The Monarchy is no big point of reference for Spaniards themselves, it however plays a state-national, representational role. So in that discourse delivered, we are not really supposed to seek genuine enlightenment and yet we are dealing with power interpellation… There is discourse. There is a desire of discourse, of language, with Spanish being at its core, as well as hunger of memory in relation to a famished “America.” The event was a genuine exercise in (cultural or soft-power) diplomacy and also business localization and advertising and promotion of specific interests, call them business interests in the vicinity of the Chamber of Commerce. The performance was not bad at all. Proper. Nice. Polite. Discreet. Short. Sweet. Do not push too much. Keep it there. All right.

 

But, not quite. Provocatively, I throw a bit of a tantrum, a bit of Zizek at the event: the Monarch-to-be is an “idiot.” And maybe we are all “idiots” with him. There is an excess of discourse, something that eludes knowledge, and runs parallel to the immediate situation… There are external, larger forces around us mocking our intelligibility efforts inside specific localities. How important is the geography of New England vis-à-vis “Spanish,” for instance? And that is the point: always to try to see bigger landscapes of interconnected vision so that at least we become more awareness of our moments of insight and blindness. A demographic-increase celebration of Spanish-language demographics appears dangerous, idiotic blindness, particularly in relation to the U.S.

The concrete event was a good example of what I would like to call mirrors of misrecognition. The foreign prince interpellates the corporation as representative of the big nation inside the bigger history lesson of the West that incorporates Spain, and the corporation does not officially feel the need to respond in kind to the speech, yet opens the door to the distinguished guest, makes it revolving door, and waits for the goodness of the business transaction. Perhaps there will be some goodness. And what does Cambridge have to do with the geography in Florida, New Mexico, Colorado explicitly mentioned in the speech in relation to precedents and preambles? Prince Felipe was using the corporate space as global platform to speak to his own citizens and expatriates –careful here with the American football language of the “Patriots”—to promote Spanish language as good for history and good for business, while the corporation was only too happy not to make a big deal of the event in the first place. It was not a big deal. It is not a big deal. Imagine the reverse, a U.S. state official going to a big foreign nation to promote the historical density of the English language as good for business. What about the President of the Corporation? I thus want to highlight the structural inequality of English/Spanish, and around it, many other things as well. Fragility therefore embedded in the official defense of Spanish inside the global Anglophone Atlantic (Europe-US) “Area Studies” undergoing a genuine debilitation as we speak. There are obviously many interests embedded in the label of “Spanish” and the Prince line of argumentation will have its fans, but I must say that these will not be the many in the U.S., perhaps I am wrong. And I am using descriptive language. The self-assumed representational role: Prince represents a foreign nation and also seeks to represent a (foreign) language and tells us how beautiful it is, and how meaningful, which is true, certainly. And yet…

With or without the humanistic ornamentation of civilizational impetus and theoretically peaceful association, the core of the speech was, and is, business: the event had to do –certainly, mostly—with branding “Spain” and also “Spanish,” but it is done in such a way that it does not push it too much, and the U.S. market is –doubts any one?– a tough one. The identity of Spain/Spanish has to be underlined in the manner of the Chamber of commerce. Think the “market:” euphemism for capitalism, and a variety of national labels inside international platforms such as corporations but also metropolis, not Boston certainly, but New York for example. Go ahead and attract your customers and consumers with your best advertising strategies. And this is, I would put to you, the political unconscious of what mostly happens around here, also inside university settings: to want to be operational, functional, meaningful in relation to the marketing of cultural products which may or may not welcome the label “Spanish.”

Which has, from the U.S. perspective, certainly, a genuine European legacy, the historical references mentioned in the speech are true, but such legacy has to reframed, “Americanized” if you wish, inside the minority portion of the officially majority minority category of “Hispanic,” and the apparent tongue-twisting in the language I am using has to do with the tense history of group relations in the U.S. Here, Spain is predominantly discreet legacy, not among the dominant nations that migrated to the US. “Spanish” is largely a (Latin) American imaginary, a “Latino” and the French-origin expression has to retain something of a healthy, historical strangeness (while I am writing this, the Boston Public Library is celebrating the figure of Rafael Gustavino and American public spaces, association between the Spanish immigrant, who contributed with the structural tile vaulting to more than 1,000 buildings in the US, some of them as emblematic as the Boston Public Library, Ellis Island Museum, Grand Central Station in New York, etc.: architecture.mit.edu/class/guastavino/about.html).

The corporation welcomes such dignified guest. And yet there is something missing, in that here was no official response to the speech. How would one love to hear what the institution have to say about the main thesis of the Prince’s discourse! There is precious little penetration of such endeavors, as far as I can see. The might of Spanish-speaking sectors inside the U.S. knocking on the institutional doors, where?, in the deliberative tables of professionals and managers, around the discussion tables of boards of trustees? The percentages of customers craving such cultural products? Healthy numbers of those students taking one or two courses, what about getting some kind of certificate in the language? Total numbers of consumers demanding a certain profile? Who was and is by the time I write this feeling cheerful about the conventional university institutionality of Spanish in the home of the brave? The speech did not touch such dimension, advisedly. Imagine a dignified guest criticizing harshly the choice of china for the tea ritual!

2/ Larger Contexts and Interests. A bit of a cognitive mapping. So, where, when, how? Higher-education institutionality of Spanish in the U.S. within the foreign-language units. Predicaments. Dilemmas. Whither are we bound? “We” who? Any appeal to any collectivity appears ever so problematic. Increasing privatizations and corporatization of education sectors, playing some kind of role inside society at large. Officially, these are not-for-profit sectors and we are currently enduring disinvestment and “de-intermediation,” two really cumbersome and euphemistic polysyllables. I have alluded to recent sociological work that speaks of university education as mostly “socialization” for the vast majority of U.S. students and who is seriously complaining? (that was also how Richard Rorty characterized university life for the vast majority of students, ever so distant from the examined life).

I am speaking perhaps lightly about serious matters and I mean seriousness when I say that the humanities occupy a funny place in the contemporary moment in the U.S., let us continue focusing on the “freest and most proud nation on earth” as some rhetoric still has it. The knowledge-production that still merits the label of the “humanities” (“liberal arts” really) must come to terms at least in the case of “Spanish” –I am keeping it thus short and sweet—with a brutal diglossia, an unambiguously fierce monolingualism that puts together a un- if not anti- historical, rough knowledge of “English,” in detriment of, or more precisely against all the other languages, and the structural subordination of the second American language, ”Spanish,” here glows historically, against its own recent history of brutal assimilation, alluded to earlier by the one personal name of the conservative commentator of Slovak origin, Michael Novak, out of the riches of multiculturalism and multilingualism, again, two other cumbersome and euphemistic poly-syllables connoting “bad press,” conventionally. It always makes me pause to remember the self-description of Americanization among conservative commentators, such as Novak and Huntington, as a process of “psychic violence,” and even lobotomy, in the deliberate loss of other languages, and how do you like such a thing?, and how on earth would you go for such a thing if you had a ghost of a historical option? But that is when the non-euphemized experience of immigration into the U.S. acquires some of its historical flavor and tension (I have alluded to the inspiration of 1970s films which do not wish to make such tensions euphemistic and more palatable but instead look at that difficulty in the face with no easy resolutions). This is significant, I would defend, because Spanish professionalization may be moving towards such tense integration. And then people invoke big numbers of speakers, sure, but you will never know by taking a peek at the institutionality in relation to education professionals making a decent living and the strong pronouncements they consistently fail to make about the dire straits of the institutional situations in which we all live. What are the visible or audible research agendas saying exactly?

Now, this is not the place to address the pathologies of American culture, but I could mention some (generations cut off from timespaces not their immediate own, ghettoized from each other, traumatized into American assimilation, at least according to our aforementioned conservative commentators historically endorsing such traumatic process, precious little sense of diachronic development and multi-perspectivism of worldviews, fragile and thin social fabric caught up or shot through by short-term “garbage-contract” institutionality, the other side of organic life of a certain continuity, business culture breaking through all apparent social things, think of Moses’ highways through historic Penn Station, the decay of urban centers, for example Boston theater district, public institutions such as the Boston Public Library, the deterioration of subway transportation, etc.). Very little holds, stays, apparently: there is no center (Daniel Bell dixit, decades ago), and most natives you will talk to do not appear to have precious awareness or care about what was happening in their midst two or three decades ago, much less centuries ago. What is there in American society that reminds you of other, foreign temporalities? What is there that holds continuity, that makes claims to a legacy or tradition? Academic life mimics the growing discontinuities of American society at large. No outrageous claim when I say that there is very little self-awareness and recognition inside the U.S. about its vigorous, interrelational, diachronic web of being inside larger world avatars, which is what Prince Felipe was trying to convey ever so diplomatically in old-fashioned, humanistic fashion, but the core of his speech –the depleted wallet in the pocket hiding in the jacket– was business-like and business, do you ever doubt it?, does not venerate historicity here or there.

“Spanish” in the U.S. classrooms is ever so discreet “second-language” pedagogy of middling-ground grammaticality and literacy in one or two courses taken inside a deteriorating requirement –bye, bye fictional worlds , or literature, and increasing indeterminacy or “culture,” which is something like sociology of mass modes, mass media or entertainment or urban consumerism, or civil society by famished institutionality, also by a genuine anti-establishment impulse that typically gets called “libertarian,” inside a society of indeterminated boundaries that is increasingly averse to textuality, ignorant of diachronicity, impatient and restive, profoundly disoriented about the utopia of meaningful arrangement of timespaces, the desirability and awareness of the intersections of geography and temporality in the binding of the doings and thinking processes, also imaginings, of social groups. One could say that we live in a genuinely non-book domain, para- but also anti-humanities inside university precincts, indifferent from capitalist structures seeking short-term profit. The political unconscious is market-cynical and rhetorically American-liberal of respect for individual choices and preferences, assuming theoretical menu of options according to the horizon of increasing individual detachments from collective units. Such modus operandi easily turns restive and repressive, anti-historical, anti-philosophical, and certainly anti-intellectual, the moment it is pressed to give reasons larger than subjectivist preferences or ad hoc institutional rules and regulations.

And here you are trying to make a living with your knowledge production. Employment conditions of Spanish-language professionals (typically covering area studies of Iberian peninsula and Latin America, within a slow recognition of the Latino dimension): horrid. The euphemism of the “market” (i.e. capitalism) cannot hide the structural degradation and systemic downgrading made evident in the “deskilling” of jobs advertised, retained and rewarded with continuity. The cat’s cradle of bureaucratization inside not-for-profit units effectively means the skullduggery of devalued language skills, thinning out of longevity, amputation of intellectual production and projection and the mockery of the rewards that should come after years of study. Should?

The language is in some quarters one of “casualization,” another cumbersome euphemism. And this is another one: “variety of income streams.” And all this has to be thought out as systemic and structural, quite far away from individual vicissitudes of good or bad fortune. In short: immensely precarious working conditions, more the unacknowledged negative than the positive, unemployment than employment, more short-term and casual than anything else, a job with continuity, “tenure-track” and pay that is barely above the poverty line. The course offerings, more lower levels of instruction than anything higher, which has never been very high, comparatively in the U.S. Where are the comparative studies of accomplishments of different university systems? I have put my own biographical experience (“On Greenblatt’s historicism: Double-take,” www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=801). We are witnessing if not the end of the academic profession certainly something close to it, and the modifier adverbial probably has to do with the general attitude of strategic silence in moments of genuine crisis. But the survivalist ethos will never say never. So, say instead that one must learn to make do with the structural mutation of what university education amounts to (I am fond of the Puerto-Rican Spanish anglicismo of “colegios” catching up fittingly the gravitational, downward-pull of U.S. higher education, following capitalistic fundamentals of short-term profit differentials, cheapening working conditions here, deskilling criteria, making it more prohibitive and more expensive there for customers and consumers seeking socialization, etc.). After two decades in the US, I am yet to find professionals who are convincingly defending the current bureaucratization of academic environments, of private corporatization of such bureaucracies of social relations generating systemic precariousness and strategic unpredictability. I feel the humanities do not have a rhetoric to put them out of the burning fire. I feel the same is true for “Spanish,” paradoxically informed by such spectacular demographics. What comes to me is the debilitation of the education profession inside the current global capitalist mass-market society, but wrapped up around it the impoverishment of symbolic production about the mechanisms implemented for the social control inside those interconnected webs and institutions of comparative, relative privilege. Somebody will be benefitting from such degradation.

Tell me the research agendas you get to see out there in the vicinity of “Spanish” other than some differentialism receiving the adjective cultural. One repetition: the clear attenuation of textualities in the vicinity of a certain normality of culturalism –now that “cultural studies” is the apparently only, typically diluted, label there is, particularly within the foreign humanities. Skepticism about a certain normality is appropriate: trust your circumstantial evidence in moments of thin discourse and thick silence. There is a certain orthodoxy of cultural difference, or the said differntialism, always already in relation to some type of symbolic or epistemic “core” taken for granted, typically assumed as the normal, good or real thing, or what is, most often left alone side by side gradualism of greater participation of under-privileged social groups (I share Slavoj Zizek’s criticisms however about a “radical apathy at the heart of today’s cultural studies, playing up right into the market ideology,” included for example in The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieślowski Between Theory and Post-Theory (2001), pp. 6ff). You may imagine in the meantime a typical situation in which a weatherwoman is telling us about the generally bad weather “out there,” while leaving the “in here” under-verbalized. Deep down, who cares, if we cling to the adverbial clause, the “out there.” What matters mostly, it seems to me, is instead the relationship between such (im-)possible knowledge renditions combining different timespaces (localities and chronologies), particularly when the immediate circumstance is proven to be faulty, paltry, incomplete, radically unsatisfactory. One of the denunciations has to do accordingly with the perception of an unmistakable flattening that naturalizes the status quo. It must be added that Spanish is still in the process of normalization into the de facto second-language status in the U.S. And that it is still in a relative institutional foreignness in the fragile humanities, or cultural studies, where the few professionals still have to play the representational role of a certain predictable kind of identifiable of a recognizable marker within few exchange options against the conventional race-and-ethnic profile that is typical of the U.S. (cultural-diversity offices, US Census, political consultations do wake up periodically the ghost of the impending transformations in the vicinity of the “Hispanic” category). Roberto Mangabeira Unger has spoken critically about a certain adventurism and subjectivism characteristic of the humanities assuming a certain triviality or ornamentalism that will be taken down in contemporary moments of dire straits. I must say it is difficult to shake this one off. What to invoke and what to appeal to, within the prevailing climate of short-term skirmishes within the perception of debilitation of educational-bureaucratic circles, that is a tough one.

In the meantime, here you are doing “Spanish” barely making a living, over-educated in a society that thinks little of the juxtaposition between the sign in quotation marks and prestige markers or achievement. Feel free to put the category you deem prestigious inside the dominant spectrum that still affirms “Spanish” becoming “American” from a position of structural subordination and integration into functional diglossia if not monolingualism, and the examples are easy to find (Sonia Sotomayor, the brothers Julian and Joaquin Castro, the journalists Richard Rodriguez and Juan González). Not entirely facetiously: imagine a coca-cola palate tasting samples of aged wine taste, imagine mole sauce in the land of ketchup, think labels such as “junk gourmet food” for example in this deliberate marketing of de/structuring sensibilities, languages, experiences, thoughts, etc. cut unevenly across the typical university visibility of subject and object of knowledge, under-represented, and out of synch against the largest social spectrum of the big nation. These are, no doubt, tensions, informing the “Spanish” category in the home of the brave in the Age of Obama, inevitably meaningful as one gets to engage with literacy and historical dimensions, and philosophical pretensions. The criticism has to emphasize the normality of anti-historical, anti-philosophical, thinning out of textual engagements, streamlined to pedagogic “facilitations” of increasingly bureaucratized and institutionalized sociabilities passing through, in ever so fast exchanges, ephemeral places (Mar Augé has written about “non-places,” and John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay speak of “aerotropolis,” and who doubts the university “campus” is becoming some of that, and how we are almost forced to become something of an unbearable lightness of circumstantial being (recreating Kundera’s famous novel title), whatever was solid melting into the air, and now going one step further into digital virtuality, and the realm of the accelerated unhinged image, and one may wish to remember at this juncture the memorable line of Henry James of the U.S. being a “hotel civilization,” which he left behind somehow as a cultural expatriate).

I am thus willing to put it to you thus publicly that we are witnessing non-obvious processes of de/institutionalizations of social relations also in the vicinity of “Spanish,” now with an intellectual crisis underneath every institutional stone you are willing to kick around –over there in the foreign country of the foreign prince that some of you left behind, and good riddance—but also undoubtedly over here, who doubts it?, in the land of the sole-standing superpower with little feeling for sustained, comparative historicism among societal models. People over there I still happen to think are more vocal than people over here, who have typically less of a historical language, perhaps less of physical strength in the brain in a harsh society of immigrants –ask the Czech experience of Novak, the Irish experience of Moynihan and come up with alternatives for the impending feeling that almost any notion of tradition may ever so quickly become an impossible burden, and where to find the strength in the limbs and the inspiration in the brain to go at such sustainable development? I would defend the inverse proportionality: a more stable or established or formal-traditional society may afford the theoretical position of producing more daring fictions and sophisticated intellectual alternatives, whereas a more precarious and unstable society of faster exchanges and enforced integration – say, conventional Americanization– goes ever more naturally to more superficial and simpler formulations, ever more rigid and operational solutions for the mounting pressures always in the perennial short-term.

And the third and final section has to do with projections. Whither are we bound, professionally and existentially, because it is your life going through the motions? And I do not know about you but I am not willing to go down the trivialization path I am just sketched out for the perceived generality ever so hastily. Academic professional life of/for Spanish is going to change ever so slightly and slowly from this situation of chronic unemployment and job precariousness for the immense majority of professionals. PhD program debilitations and thinning out of academic units –also worringly in relation to customers and consumers unless departmental units pay close attention and react better quickly than slowly.

Division of labor is going to continue. In the American imagination, “knowledge” is in English –the vehicle, the medium—and the foreign languages –what nice thing to say about this template?—provide some type of ornamentation, what I would call “boutique Europe” perhaps the best case scenario. But I would suggest that it is mostly thin culturalism –think food and United-Nations-type celebrations or student-organizations in the private campuses, some images, some film, sports, “soccer.” Sure. I like that too. Anything else? What I mostly hear is an awful lot of silence around the importance of the “foreign languages.”

The silence means there is a profound, deep crisis of legitimacy of the humanities and of Spanish in them trying to play catch up with the positivity of demographics. What is it that such sign does, really? And I confess to you that “”Spanish” is one of my concerns, certainly: one. So, this culturalism is perhaps a fight that has always already been lost. The good fight of lost causes? The silly piece in the Spanish newspaper ABC aforementioned includes a reference to the “last of the Philippines,” which is a colonialist film vision of Spain’s travails in the crucible of the 1898. You can ethnicize the expression if you wish (“the last of the Mohicans”). The point being, the defense of the foreign humanities in partibus infidelium, the Latin plays up the peculiarity of the “Latin” focus in the U.S., is always already a “minority affair,” suddenly turning official prediction into the following decades. Saying it less playfully, one will have to speak of turbulence in knowledge-production units inside the current capitalist crisis.

I happen to think that a more connected, more confrontational and muscular language is wanted, if what one wants is to try to get a keener sense of our historicity. Against the abyss of market-cynical ideology, I am resisting the debilitation of language in the vicinity of the institutional fragility of “Spanish” inside American universities in the midst of momentous transformations. I am willing to take risks and pursue the opposite of the debilitation of symbolic production, while being aware of Lacanianisms standing for the ontological void of it all. Zizek takes us there. Yet, one must handle these seductions sensibly.

I will finally put it thus: I see some people selling some kind of watered-down lemonade to other people who drink a bit of it but who are not really thirsty and after one or two tries, say one or two courses, drop it (Spanish) and move on to other better things of the kind that could be called functional or marketable knowledge. Spanish, I must say, it is not convincingly here. It has not been here and probably it will not be here any time soon, historically, socially, epistemologically, politically, philosophically, certainly not within the current university structures undergoing mutation not spoken of eloquently. Americans of the conventional kind do not know what these previous adverbial dimensions mean in juxtaposition to “Spanish,” or Hispanic or Latino, for that matter, and it is also not unlikely that they will know what such juxtaposition means in relation to (the discipline of) “English” either. Tangled up in both, we are all good guys and nobody’s perfect.

The skin is in the game, mine at least, and here I am doing what I think I should do, and doing so by the skin of the teeth, negatively speaking, and the utopia or positivity has not yet arrived two decades after the arrival in the home of the brave. In the meantime, I will not yield to the collapse of the structure of meaning and care apropos the hard sell of “Spanish” in the U.S., and many other things with it, and I must think less than nothing of the structural ingratitude –so far—that is not only anti-intellectual, but many other awful things as well. Thanks for your attention. Open for comments, questions, anything.

 

Peninsularities.

Peninsularities.

By Fernando Gómez Herrero (fgh2173@gmail.com).

For the matter lies somewhere in the realm of the Emperor Arthur without being discovered, Owein.

 

 

 

 

 

I wish to turn to Joan Ramon Resina’s “Cold War Hispanism and the New Deal of Cultural Studies,” included in Spain beyond Spain: Modernity, Literary History and National Identity, edited by Brad Epps and Luis Fernández Cifuentes (2005) in the larger context of the list of these 4 singular nouns in the book title, one of them repeated, perhaps for emphasis and two adjectives in severe state of disrepair. More narrowly, we are dealing with academic modalities of critical analysis in the last two or three decades, say as explicitly made clear in the article title in question. I emphasize what is explicitly missing in both titles, the dominant English-speaking and/or hegemonic Anglophone dimension of the immediate circumstance of the U.S., which is where these three proper names have made a living, one of them officially leaving for the other side of the Anglo world.

 

 

 

There is a more studied, deliberate or rigorous, and a more general, quick or loose way of engaging with the article that must begin with the title. The latter variety will put lazy lip to say simply that the old modality (Hispanism) is old, and that the new one (cultural studies) will be old very soon, so some form of “literature” will have to updated to re-catch the university space already lost. Resina will call this “Iberian studies,” and not what he would like to call it which is “Catalan” within some kind of “minority” frame that would fit into the “diversity” constellation of liberal ideology semi-active in academic circles in the U.S. at least since the 1970s, and we will soon see of what kind. The more rigorous and detailed rendition is what follows.

 

Cold War and New Deal are fitting American labels that also travel elsewhere. Significantly, they point fingers mostly in the direction of the immediate U.S. circumstance and the reader can immediately see why I may want to play compare-and-contrast with Prince Felipe’s Harvard speech (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=1331). Are we meant to understand the Cold-War and New-Deal appropriately in relation to the timeframe of post-WWII, post-1945 say, and the Roosevelt plan for America which preceded, European reconstruction would come later? If this is so, “cultural studies” can go back and forth in relation to the Cold-War label, now left behind as our immediate history for our post-cold-war postmodernity/postcoloniality. Resina does not appear to celebrate “cultural studies,” finding more trouble and vice than graces and virtue, giving no evidence of warm feeling towards British or American cultural studies, or Iberian and Latin American cultural-studies varieties for that matter. There is no quote from any other colleague in such fields in approving fashion giving the harsh impression of a wasteland. Hence, there is a bit the feeling of a foreign-model car stuck in some ditch in the American road left in some state of disrepair and with no clear sense, map, GPS, smoke signal or holy saint of good direction that may tell the driver of such car which best cognitive mapping to put to good use, which fork to take, etc. He is not alone here. Resina’s merit is that he trudges along and perhaps alone and in so doing he is very much like most of us.

 

I insist then: retroactively go back to an earlier time not to be celebrated? Or to move forward passing through what is perceived to be the almost inevitable deterioration of the profession, claiming a renaissance of the sign “literature” with no adjectival markers, not even Catalan, or schools of thought, or leading names and role-models? There is something here of a bind and our Barcelona scholar gets caught in it, existentially speaking as well with no easy ways out. Perhaps, we should instead think of two supple elements in a non-linear sequence, Hispanism and Cultural Studies, two modalities, the second one substituting the other, the first one perhaps resisting its demolition, so to speak, without major improvements, at least in Resina’s account. There is no third way. Taking into account circumstantial and contextual evidence, I see Resina leaning towards making pragmatic use of a very non-descript and general label of “cultural studies,” coming as he does from the European-style comparativism of medieval Romance Studies (the Owein quote included before is his perhaps wink to the smart reader in his Berkeley dissertation about the Holy Grail: who would have thought the Mediterranean Delta of such Nile of today flew from those early dark, deep African springs in Lake Victoria, de aquellos polvos, estos lodos, in colloquial Spanish, not necessarily pejoratively)?). American trajectories will deliver more than one surprise than your imagination might dream of in a lifetime, Horatio.

 

 

My interpretation leans towards a general sequence of square-one, kind of bad (Hispanism but also Hispanic Studies in general), which was followed upon a time in the generic Eurocentric history of Western civilization by square-two (cultural studies, also of a general or generic, non-descript kind), which is perhaps slightly better, but not great either, and that is “the way the cookie crumbles,” as the great Billy Wilder would put it, the great American “classic” of transplanted German descent as you know,  author of great light Hollywood comedies, and the German dimension I use advisedly in a way that will become obvious in what follows (the Romanistiche alluded to the “Nile” origins of Resina is also the Románicas of another emotional center, call it Castilian castle if you wish, where the storks nest by the Vitoria statue, dear to the aforementioned García De la Concha, adviser and scholar included in the train of Prince Felipe in the Harvard event included in the previous culture bite, and there is a world of difference, call it “Spain in America” if you wish, between both modalities historically thinning out, yes, into to the one and only label now of “cultural studies,” a generally vague sociologism of literary hot-air balloon moving low in the sky, ever so close to the latest fads and vagaries, and circling fast, not furious typically, around the lightweight world away from textualities and into the motion pictures with some sub-titles to attract non-readers to the semi-deserted classrooms).

 

 

I find myself agreeing with Resina in relation to some of the severe limitations inherited. I find myself parting ways in some of his “solutions.” I will try to explain how and why I see the situation of Spanish literature and culture –increasingly Iberian-centered here in the narrow, academic sense of the term that is virtually unintelligible to the vast majority of American citizens. I underscore another set of referentialities included in the subtitle of the volume edited by Epps and Cifuentes, or Cifuentes and Epps, tanto monta, monta tanto, recent Harvard colleagues until very recently since Epps left for the original Cambridge on the other English side of the Atlantic: a seemingly impossible beyond of the border of the singular nationality defended by Prince Felipe, the inevitable modernity, the history of the literary form, barely making it into any kind of teleology, or the “beyond,” and the language of “identity” in relation to “nation,” which Resina’s Catalan/ista disposition would always like to take, where else but?, as close to the international home projection of the city of Barcelona as possible. Think of the abstract formula: my strategic identity politics is my signification modality at least inside some liberal enclaves, my tactical (foreign region, city, nation) localism is my differential card, call it internationalism, at leas in moderation. Are Prince Felipe and Resina –both have passed through Harvard, I am certain– playing the same game, the same ball game , different games, or different sports altogether? I am not simply being cute with the lingo. I claim there is logos here too. Excuse my forwardness: are these two lemons for the making of the same lemonade (variation games around the marker “Spanish”)? Or, are these two entirely different varieties of lemon, which will produce two different types of lemonade to be ascertained and enjoyed thoroughly by the sophisticated lemon-appreciate palate and satisfy the thirst of the American customers and consumers? Or are these instead like apples and oranges? Metaphorically speaking, like cats and dogs? And how far can you go marking differences in the U.S. in relation to the strong attenuation of geographies, the thinning out of its “thick descriptions,” and the apparently unstoppable “modernization” of any old chronologies?

The funny marriage between geopolitics and studies is, at least in the U.S., beyond doubt, directly in relation to foreignness (Prince Felipe suggests some of that, from the inverted other side of the foreign so to speak, which I am deliberately playing, mostly for emphasis, and intentionally, against the immediate circumstance, call it American nativism; the final sentence of the speech does the two-way inversion of these two categories provocatively as I have indicated). Resina speaks of the Committee on World Area Research (CWAR) of the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC). And here the paradigm is that of the Cold-War Area Studies becoming our post-terminology of today of still uncertain boundaries. The pudenda origo for the Catalan scholar is the marginal concern of the marginal country vis-à-vis strategic importance for U.S. interests, the one eye of the Polyphemus so to speak, the doubled national country name included in the anthology of Epps and Fernández Cifuentes is an ally of sorts, not in the Premier League of the big teams say, in the years immediately after World War II. Very well, then.

 

 

No Titan will single-handledly change the march of history. We are thrust into circumstances not of our choosing. The crucial thing is how to go about thinking about them and changing our practices and languages in them towards something else, bigger, better, etc. Resina gives me the genuine tone of mal- or discontent, with which I have no problem whatsoever. This is potentially the source of most worthy endeavors of significance, also intellectual. He gives me also, I would submit to you, a mere pittance of the possible options, intellectual and otherwise, in the imagined future projections, which remain, as far as I can see, as tightly and institutionally contained as those managers would like them to me, also docile in relation to the said immediate circumstance, call it American nativism, about which Resina has consistently nothing to say explicitly. If his bite against some elsewhere (let us call it by the bad name of Hispanism) is almost harsh and even ferocious, his bite here (let us call it “American” for lack of a better word, while assuming the mono- and bi-continental ambiguity implicit in Prince Felipe’s speech, and the Catalan meaning will be, no doubt, closer to the Spanish mono-continental normality), is that of the puppy who licks the hand that feeds him. His epistemic limitations are not only his, one must quickly add. These will have to circumscribe the entire field of Hispanic Studies, label from which he would most likely wish to gain some distance, but how far and for how long in the American academic marketplace as presently constituted? I will not quarrel, or engage in a cheap bargain not to give him the laurels for being a pugnacious representative of the best elements in such field of humanistic knowledge production. Let me explain further.

 

Resina underscores the corporatization of knowledge-production inside U.S. institutions and he makes “cultural studies” dysphoric symptom of such complex phenomena. I insist that his tense, terse prose does not lead me to believe that there is love’s labor’s lost in relation to the second-degree transition of the much debilitated literary studies, which he notes often, if not always with some type of poker-face gesture of controlled emotion. He deems the corporatization inevitable process of capture, indeed the only mental horizon inside which he will remain at least until the end of the present century. He thinks agitation is futile, or at least he has no use for explorations in such direction (and why is it that I think he has an unnamed Alberto Moreiras, another University of Barcelona student, but no Catalan/ista) in mind?).

 

The proximity with his Stanford colleague Gumbrecht is deplorable, at least intellectually speaking, as far as I can see in this article, but one has, I suppose, it is conventional academic etiquette, to remain grateful and pay respects to those who must have been involved in the getting you the job you have got (for the record, yours truly put his neck on the line and voted in favor of Resina in an emploding departmental situation in the minority vote, it should be clear). In my eyes, the occasional citations of the heavy-set German colleague undermine the critique of the literary debilitations embedded in the status quo, not only of the old university of Cornell where he was based for years, that remains unmitigated, even harsh, and it is proper and I feel it should be so, particularly against the largest landscape of sweetness, silence and nothing, and I would not mind having more of such harsh critique more often.

 

Resina thus speaks of the pitfalls of the “new system” under the totalitarian domination of cultural studies, I am adding a little spice to the prose, since we are talking about Lilliputian enclaves, particularly so in the immediate professional context of Resina on the West coast of the big and proud nation in relation to some institution where yours truly used to be a wide-eye fresh member of a profession who could not believe the business could run the way it did. Our “honorable member” –as the formal lingo of the House of Commons has it– speaks of non-sequentiality of courses, unstructured, the questioning of the very legitimacy of the model of humanistic inquiry, getting exacerbated by the processes of virtualization of knowledge and the increasingly tenuous relation of knowledge to the objects in the world; hence, indeterminacy, a concept treasured among others by the social sciences of intelligent and resilient intellectual of the might of Immanuel Wallerstein among others. The bad press of the humanities is that they are “fuzzy” knowledge, and there is not much of a discussion going on, as far as I can see. People cite the two cultures of C.P. Snow (1959), which is somewhat useful and already old, and they shut up. I do not see the humanities generating any kind of self-defense, as though there was no longer any point in trying, as though inertia alone would pull them out of holes into new ones by the boots straps.

 

 

Resina cites, approvingly I suppose, of the “risk” knowledge and of the “complexity” advocated by Gumbrecht, both pushing in the direction of the critique of a generic field called of “cultural studies”–I insist that these are Romanistiche medievalists in pudenda origo, Gumbrecht himself with old connections with the University of Salamanca, go figure! And I would not be the one to claim. No field is innocent enough not to throw the first stone at the academic glass but these two are throwing what at what in relation to what type of social landscape populated by what intellectual figures and school trajectories? But “cultural studies” is mostly libelous field name, almost scarlet letter, unless in the most generic and bland sui generis name for the humanities, that here signifies, for Resina at least as far as I can make out the deterioration of the traditional role of the humanities, historically in the business of being accumulators of symbols, keepers of historical memory and desire other than enabling short-term contracts and interests of governments and business interests. I must say that I find that the glossy kitschy and camp sculptures of Koons spoken of in a previous culture bite would not be out of place in the mirror stage of the humanities at Stanford University.

 

 

 

 

The capitalist merit of the humanities?: they are “crucial for the retention of huge surpluses in tax exemptions.” They act as legitimation of the new corporate mentality, with or without the debilitation of any kind of textualist practice. So the humanities do something in the large scheme of things. And something they will do, certainly. Resina is right in saying that “cultural studies could well be the swan song of literature departments” (p. 89). But he appears to want to play retreat and “go back” to something that is also likely to be impossible, call it thick, slow, textual appreciation of meaning-making processes with a feeling for languages. Playing off the contrast with the foreign Prince, that I am almost sure Resina among others would not welcome, his Harvard speech mentioned briefly in passing (Spanish) literature two or three times, cultural studies remained unnamed.

 

 

The chronology that matters is the 1980s and 1990s of the last century, which is also when Resina entered the American scene from a Barcelona platform and a medieval thesis at Berkeley on the Holy Grail. Like most of his colleagues, he must teach Almodovar now. The 90s are typified as “possibly the golden moments for Cultural Studies” –Resina appears to hold these studies like a pair of dirty socks, not his. It is often here that he speaks –and who would say otherwise?– of the “erosion of skills, much of the dignity gone” about text-handling techniques and methodologies of literary exegesis, and the corporatization of the university that makes agitation into a mirage of its name. Hence, resistance is futile, say the fictional species, the Borgs, in the popular series Start Trek, and so does Resina say, apparently with no big fuss in the context of the less than popular humanities of the foreign-language addition of some kind, and I generously emphasize the generic foreign and the vague some. I suppose there is some unhappiness about such erosion that our colleague will try to fight against. He holds no mirror of distortion, preserves no such mirages himself then. So what would he say he does caught up, like everybody else, in the vortex of the “literary” and the “literacy” levels of infinitely modest instruction and perhaps entirely redundant humanistic academic practice, of increasingly fast-forward, action-movie motion pictures?

 

 

I buy his perception of the academic flight from literature. You would have to be blind in the land of the blind not to see it. I will doubt him later and I am wondering what such retreat in the “literature” sign would do for him or anybody else for that matter.  So, with James Buzard, Samuel Weber, Bill Readings, with whom he disagrees somewhat, also with Walter Cohen and tactfully quoting from the inevitable Gumbrecht, too close for any type of distance in the Stanford environment to which he went after I departed, and how many colleagues here of Iberian studies do you get to count with the fingers of one hand? (arguments with some Iberian and Latin American studies colleagues take the backstage of the endnotes). He underlines the “symbiotic connection between the economic and the intellectual” (p. 93), an interesting choice of an adjective, mind you, in the personification of Walter Cohen, a scholar turned administrator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let us pause here for a minute, by the fork of the road taken, grab your Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and verify that symbiosis is an interesting word, in its “positive” natural-world feeling: “the living together in more or less intimate association or even close union of two dissimilar organisms as in parasitism, mutualism or commensalism.” What kind of social association: legal, political, religious, natural, unnatural, etc.? Resina picks the “positive” word, endorses it, right?, approves of it in relation to a colleague, not in the immediate field almost caressing the Aladdin’s lamp “in any of the various, mutually beneficial relationships.” The other, loaded and most “negative” counterpoint is helotism, interesting etymology taking us all the way back to Sparta, I have heard proper Bostonians and New Englanders calling themselves Spartan in relation to the way they eat, dress, and probably kiss, etc., but this is not the most meaningful vernacular here: “a symbiotic relation as in plants or animals, in which one functions as the slave or the other, as that between certain species of ants.” The most meaningful origin has to do with the members of the lowest social and economic class in Sparta thought to represent the conquered original population and constituting a body of serfs… required to serve in the armed forces; deprived of rights and privileges and often exploited.” Agitation is not welcome and Resina is no Spartacus, playfully speaking.

 

 

Resina’s revealing rhetorical question: “So, in the light of this exacting requirement to live with and in the economic law, the question “what is to be done?” becomes pressing” (p. 93). Mark both adjectives (exacting, and pressing). Do not think funny Leninism, but bourgeois pragmatism of the administrative ideal inside the corporate university, with or without some “identity politics” thrown in there, strategically of course, publicly seeking “to relegitimize literature in the new corporate environment.” If he is using Cohen, it might as well be the Cohen tongue of Resina towards “new readings and new ideas… [that] can be turned to good corporate account” (p. 94). Well, one of the current euphemisms in the current European crisis is “recapitalization.” Is this what Resina is fundamentally saying he would like to do, wants to do? And how is this calibrated academic phrasing of Resina fundamentally different in essence, at the core, in the heart of hearts, eye to eye, apple in the eye in the good dollar amount, or perhaps euro amount and rate exchange, from the more academy-light speech of the foreign Prince?

 

 

Resina’s proposal, almost in the same breath length, defends: “the possibility of speculative thought, released from the requirements of applicability, productivity and cutting-edge performance which befit a capitalist enterprise” (p. 95). And one must supposedly, ideally have fun in the meantime, Resina speaks of “the exhilaration of unfettered thought,” of “truth” as “subjective” vis-à-vis “objective data.” There are no names, geographies, situations, examples, and how many quotation marks and who will go against my exhilaration as long as I keep it to myself, or yours to yourself (former Stanford colleague in his twilight appointment, Richard Rorty made these private gardens of individual delight quintessential liberal utopias)? Some of this is at work in Resina’s dodgy prose. One is almost tempted to call it the disembodied, abstract, faceless Cartesian subject seeking self-interest and who will blame him. Yet, this is, I must say, profoundly unconvincing, at least programmatically speaking, if only for the type of rhetorical “cuteness” that falls flat on its face (old Greeks would call it sophistry, older generations, travesty, teenage Americans might say something along the lines of “fuck that shit”). Resina acquires concreteness around the generic repudiation of “Spanish, [which] continues to suppress” [minority identities in the Iberian context on the other side of the Atlantic] (p. 96). Upon the condemnation of this suppression, he builds his rock castle of skepticism of trans-Atlantic studies, another label he will not call his. At some silly, banal market label, I cannot help but feel that his proposal for “Iberian Studies” seeking difference from Hispanic Studies, old Hispanisms, other Iberian modalities, is not that different, but it is also fatigue uniform, chameleon, generic clothes, why not “Romance Studies” building up a magnificent comparative umbrella term that would link up more congruously with his Berkeley origins in the American side of the Atlantic? He will not call it for what it is, most exclusively Catalan studies and the thinness of recognition in the U.S. begins to explain some of that strategic silence of the part of the Catalan colleague. There is more truth in this silliness and banality that one would like to see recognized publicly.

 

 

 

 

There is his distance, if not active dislike, of some generic “postcolonial critique” (p. 70), with or without the fleeting endorsement of the Mignolesque defense of minority languages that is put in an endnote. In general there is more dislike than like in Resina’s modus operandi. The “minority” sign is here the center of the fast rotation of the vortex on the wall that he, and some with him, will be forced not to let go, getting caught in the like (false, dirty, cheap) honey of some polite liberal recognition of a particularity as long as it does not disrupt the larger, eccentric scheme of things conventionally American (I have called this conventionality the “white-American” silent majority of Nixonian inspiration elsewhere). Decades later, Resina, and many others with him, still resides in this partial recognition inside humanistic knowledge units going down in a sliding scale, Stanford included. Resina knows this as well as you and me and instead of aiming high at the vast landscape, he brings down the bow and arrow down to the muddy waters of a certain Latinamericanist advocacy of Spanish that is not contemplating the Iberian context, and does not want to. Resina’s fundamental axis remains peninsularist of a certain Catalan kind and Eurocentric, West-East say, with the capital affection in the city of Barcelona, of some name recognition after its own Olympic Games, during the Socialist period of early democracy in Spain. This is also, not surprisingly, where he is coming from. So, there is a “return” of sorts and what kind of trip is this American adventure then going where exactly? Unlike Ulysses in Kavafy’s great poem, Resina’s train passes through is Ithaca, New York but also through California without jouissance. His relationship with “America” –in both conventional American English, the U.S.,  and conventional Spanish sense of the word, mono-continentality of the “Americas”– has no substantial epistemic meaning. His relationship with the American reality is bereft of jouissance.

 

 

There is no libidinal investment. America is not love at first sight. Oftentimes, love only comes after hard work and after decades, if it ever comes. Yet, as far as I am concerned, our Catalan colleague remains in plain view of the Cyclop’s one-eye institutionality. You must understand I am not blaming him. I am circumscribing his radius within the existential drama of the foreign academic in the relative American exile whose existential, epistemic parameters remain originally elsewhere. In so doing, he remains (stereo-)typical in the (over-)deterministic conditioning of a peninsularist academicism in the home of the brave that finds him with many others with whom he would rather not sit at the dinner table, but is essentially the same “minority” game of minimum-degree differentialism, call it “cultural,” that gets soft-focus, blurry and fuzzy even banal ever so quickly from the American distance stereotypically manufactured as such, as distance from itself and the rest of the world (one easy anecdote in the appalling little colleague of liberal-arts Americana: the poorly (hair-)dressed managers of old age, awkward manners and gentle-sex persuasion, all mid-West native, you may imagine the underground nightmare in A Boy and His Dog (1975), would explicitly advise the new batch of visiting faculty to learn to practice quickly “social distancing” with their clingy students, little did you know that such was how the entire place was doing business with itself, with the historically dry city across the street, with the region, with its own political unconscious, and with the dark side of the moon…). And this is a very tough question: where else would Resina go? Mix with American populations of Hispanic origin that will give him an entirely different Spanish flavor and compass?

 

The identity politics (neo-liberal American modulation of particularistic subjectivity) is thus one of the self-styled foreign and “minority” sector peeling away within hegemonic imaginaries, say within Iberian and also European, imagine the colorful and largely harmless Matryoshka, Russian nest-ing dolls fitting into each other. There is “color,” yes but it must remain without radicalism, or else it will disappear from conventional or hegemonic timespaces of “white-and-black” meaningfulness. Think more Benetton-color diversity with or without the marketing provocations of the good photography of Oliviero Toscani, about which there was a previous culture bite that you might want to check out (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?cat=14). A second hopefully  meaningful example: think of the Barcelona football players of Catalan origin and other origins playing most recently to great success for the for the Spanish national team, affectionately called as “La Roja” in fact providing the fundamental structure and approach to the game. And where else would they be able to go in the eyes of an international market share? How to go about the wider circulation of your cultural goods? Mutatis mutandis: the academic market share is if not identical, at least quite comparable to the situation of the football players against the predicament of meaningful or significative singularity, of the sign “nations” as we know them today caught up in bigger units (internationalization) and smaller units (localization, regionalization, nationalisms deemed historic within nation-states, private or corporate interests more or less identified with a national spirit or theme). Look at the disorientations among your American natives and make it structural and systemic in regards to the difficulty of the availability of good compass with which to navigate historical and social timespaces, as though it did not really matter, or mattered increasingly less in the increasing, apparently unstoppable commodification of any other reality that is not such, but also in relation to the confusions regarding the verification of the ethnic provenance of the last-name that they carry, the slight regard if not virtual disregard of nameplaces in America, little philology here indeed, the precarious English monolingualism coming from a family history of multi-ethnic multilingualism that finds itself easily cornered in any clumsy corner in any British pub… Who does not pity the manners of the Romans? And yet, watch it on this side of the Atlantic! And the little red devil perched on your left shoulder will whisper in your ear: and how does your sweet little ass explain eloquently its own trajectory, immigrant intellectual life or not? And what if the butt of the jokes is conquering the world and the joke is on you then.

 

And how do you think thick (historical, social, hermeneutic, etc.) textures fare in the supreme thinness which one may wish to synthesize, perhaps in grandiloquent fashion, as “empire” (corporate language, ever so committed to sandbag the sharp corners inside the glacial-cold institutional controlled environments, tends to avoid such phenomenal gestures of expressivity in quotation marks, except perhaps in combative foreign-policy think-tank enclaves)? And how well does Polyphemus’s eye register the foreign beauty of idiosyncratic particularities, but also its own rich play of domestic differences and complex mutations? Well, not well at all and you may wish to remember the aberration of “world” delivered by NBC coverage of the recent Olympics! I must say that I tend to picture the Catalan nationalism in general terms at least overseas on this side of the Atlantic in modalities closer to Northern-Italy versus its South, or Germans versus its Turkish populations, rather than any type of counter-hegemonic nationalism from below so to speak, more bourgeoisie than proletarian to use two old fashioned names that feel profoundly un-American. The Catalan nationalism that I perceive in Resina gets stuck, and stuck for the duration, in the hole of the Iberian flag, emptying the Spanish sign out of any kind of desirable meaning so to speak, but not quite to reach a final solution that would terminate it completely, how would the Catalan leg walk without its Spanish leg? The impulse is thus not quite to reach out to larger fields of green pasture, call them European or American dimensions, inside which, I am almost 100% certain, the particularism (Catalan or any other really) would lose its greater recognition, resistance, sharpness and definition. “Travel cures all nationalisms,” as the famous line of the recalcitrant Basque novelist of the Generación del 98 said it. Perhaps.

 

The “nationalism” variety that reaches me the most emerging from the Iberian peninsula is of the (petty) bourgeois variety pack. It appears more identitarian and “conservative” than anything else, more given to isolationist signification in the little cultural box of foreign diversity, than inclined to expansive and vigorous intercourse with rainbow-coalitions and critical solidarities. It is mostly I find a weak, reactive and defense mechanism inside the American assimilation model, call it perhaps humorously the Americanization of the fast and cheap wash-and-dry “cultural” cycle if you wish, by those, typically recent or new “Americans” who can somewhat afford it or cannot afford anything else, at least inside dominant or hegemonic U.S. discourses winding down inside institutions of higher learning since the 1970s. My critical observation does not put me high and dry and happy outside the field of observation. I am part of it too. This “American cultural identity” type of talk is more lazy-lip, pop-culture Americana, than cosmopolitanism, for those who can obviously afford it, and access to “Europe” is sign of privilege in “America,” as it should be clear by now. Such phrase in quotation marks is obviously more indigenous and typically more Huntingtonian than Hegelian, or global world-culture process of drastic mutation that relativizes the immediate circumstance and condemns it, and rightly so, as an insufficient, and truly appalling provincialism (the easy recourse continues being NBC coverage of the Olympic Games, but I hope you see the argumentation goes beyond that). Finally, such culture and identity is even less postcolonial than Hegelian postcolonial in the fundamental turn of the screw of the neo-liberal ideology operative not quite in the wild and messy streets of poorly fixed pavement, but in the public-relations and customer-service sections inside corporate settings. This is where most or all of us are trying to signify, but barely so, at least for the time being. Not feeling myself particularly inclined to nationalistic emotions, I am not repudiating nationalism per se either. I want to think there are other types of “nationalism” in Spain and beyond (Irish, Welsh, Scottish dispositions may afford some intersections), which may not necessarily reach me here. I am caught in the meantime in between at least these two varieties within the Iberian peninsula, Prince Felipe’s and Resina’s, and I hope it is clear by now why and how I think I would very much like to pass the faithful cultural membership with both speech acts, and suspend the “identity” that comes with it as well, while socially distancing myself up to a point, if I can. This is easier said than done, and there is a lot of green on the billiards table and the (intellectual) game is still wide open, and there are many other players in the American scene and beyond. Would you agree with me that these national variations look “small,” at least the foreshortening granted by the U.S., its vociferous calls to conventional “patriotism,” but it is really jingoism, included?

 

There is still a little bit more to be said about “Cold War Hispanism and the New Deal of Cultural Studies.” Resina plays it cute in the concluding sections of his intense piece, possibly the most elaborated essay in the anthology of Epps and Cifuentes, Harvard peninsularists, so you can see we have not left the previous environment too far behind. This was the essay that interpellated me the most and I am taking it as seriously and as respectfully as I can. Resina’s “German Ideology”, his “jargon of authenticity,” accordingly?: our Catalan colleague proposes a peculiar mode of legitimization, almost with a wink to those in the know, as though caught up by Gulliver in the tight knot of the academic handkerchief, while wearing the autochthonous barretina say, and most of your native American friends will scratch the head about the preceding polysyllable adjective, through an argumentum ad verecundiam (sic, in Latin in italics in the original), which means, but perhaps this reminder is an insult to your medieval Latin erudition, a fallacious, irrelevant appeal to authority, sometimes persuasive.

Now what are to make of this? Ad hoc strategizing inside the immediate institutionality at hand? Enlightened self-interest, with or without a smidgeon of minority-culture essentialism, whenever convenient, by the generic name of “literature,” of apparent humanities liquidation sale in the early decades of the new century (your gallows humor will perhaps call the moment one of “final solution”), and there is here a sub-rosa Catalanism keeping its name under ever so discreet and under wraps, mostly signifying the internal implosion of “Spanish,” without quite letting it go. These are the two signifiers, or the two columns, Hispanic and Catalan, for Resina’s beyond-Spain Iberian Studies. Since he spoke earlier of symbiosis and not of helotism, are we to assume a marriage of convenience between literature and the corporation, and also of the alienation of the nation-state representationality in the foreign missions? And what kind of relationship is this that is mutually beneficial under what type of ritual officiated by what belief system? And the benefit is…? Stretching this chewing gum breaks it into the argumentum ad absurdum, call it particularism of convenience if you wish, or call it cultural difference up to a point, which is no exclusive purchase of a certain Catalanism, which I cannot help but see as fragile defensive mechanism. In the article, it does not come out of the closet strongly in firm public declaration of faith. The very name of Iberia does not mean anything much to most Americans, neither does Catalan, and this double indemnity does not excuse a structural ignorance that will not disappear tomorrow (it is not uncommon to read in papers such as The New York Times how Catalan is a dialect of Spanish, failing in the GPS kicked in when Barcelona wins some trophy, thus destroying years of cultural mission by the Generalitat of Catalunya, and you bet your barretina that Prince Felipe is certain to be present when Barcelona and Spain win European competitions).

 

I am mostly underlining the tensions of complex signification appertaining locations labeled foreign as and if they get to make it to the public light, but barely so, inside Uncle Sam’s institutions. And it is here that I find, I must say, that Resina is perhaps not as forceful and straightforward, also not as biting and sharp as one might have wanted him to be, call it moderate and pragmatic seny around the Catalan sign, closer to the manners of the former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, than the cut-and-dry sardonic Salamanca-born Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, and obviously far away from the Portuguese sound and fury of the great Madrid coach José Mourinho say. There is a world of a difference between the Catalan Pep and the Portuguese José, when both are the same name, there is a Brazilian player playing for Madrid using Pepe and this type of idiosyncratic particularity gets called “soccer” in the U.S., and it is still barely and poorly reported, if at all, with no flair, command of geography and of course feeling for languages. Mutatis mutandis: the classrooms… Easy to see which side of this Iberian cultural furniture our dear friend Resina will cover most.

 

 

But there is some strategic silencing of the desired signifier, which must be unveiled.  Translation imperii: move from one c to another c in the narrow confine of this Catalan self-declared cultural identity around literature, and think of the conventional absence of the sign “capitalism” in contemporary English and increasingly in Spanish, at least in the mainstream media, as though naming the system was automatically a sign of the devil, a gross violation of decorum, a punk anthem of “God Save the Queen,” also in the official land of rebellious republication and no giving much of flying fernando about monarchical trappings; but you must also think of the avoiding of the name of the deity, the bare decoration of churches and temples, a kind of iconoclastic sensibility typically poorly articulated, and how it persists, I find, I must say, perhaps coming from the three Abrahamic religions, but much less so in the “Latin,” or Baroque variety of Christianity, and here New England and Boston do represent beautifully this type of epicenter of supreme discreetness from a certain position of relative power and historical privilege of never falling for the “crime of ornamentation” (Loos), but never say never, although it is a kind of deeply ingrained colonial past tangled up with the modernist sensibility say, no postmodernisms and no postcolonialims, thank you very much indeed, which the Protestant legacy, at least for those with some self-awareness of it,  keeps as sign of self-identity in front of the mirror, perhaps winning some hearts and minds out there, while walking down the Beacon Hill and the Back Bay areas of the American-old town one stoic shoe and the other Spartan at a time and liking themselves doing so in no rush…  but they will typically not tell you so discursively or otherwise. This crowd is not much given to demonstrations of intellectual affection, and I trust you have walked with me ever so discreetly in this exaggeration, ever so genially and amiably, believing as it were in the commonwealth of universal Man, lest the some deity may unleash righteous fury at this most humble of writers and I only have to point at my official academic titles to prove the theoretical point. The point being that there is quite a bit of a difference, call it cultural if you wish, kept apart by the Atlantic ocean and I am of two minds about it, without quite settling in for any of the two options. Imagine the blip instead of the bad word on television, the PG-13 film rating, the rather stupid sexualization of the female nipple, the impossible swearword, the sweet cannoli of female genitalia in the agile American tongue, the teetotaler and the alcohol-banning attitudes, a certain parcity in language, as though language were never intimate part of who you are, and had to be looked at always with suspicion, how do you think bilingualism flies in this part of the world then?, a certain prudishness of body gesture that feels prefabricated, a discomfort at PDA (public displays of affection), the keeping of the physical distance, the no-touch, the immediate sexualization of the touch, and the kiss, the contrast with binge drinking and predictable excesses in foreign countries, the counter-productive excessive emotion that must not go with academic and intellectual matters, the biting of the lazy lip, saying almost always less, if possible, and it is always possible, and even better saying nothing if someone has nothing nice to say…

 

 

 

I wish to bring this admitted parody down to its proper location in the antipodes of the profane vernacular Iberian Spanish language use apropos an infinitely more verbal display of capitalism, deity and genitalia but also constant, endless critique of everyone and everything under the sun in everyone’s mouths at the slightest little nuisance… The “minority” immigrant and eminently precarious status must account for some of the changes in (academic, professional) diction over here, typically detached from the society at large as though the corporation were the only ontological house of proper being that could never be addressed verbally in convincing terms. Never say never: I am of course exaggerating knowing full well I am exaggerating to prove the point of a certain difference, call it “cultural” if you wish, informing epistemic dimensions, frames of intelligibility and horizons of vision. Do you want these big or do you want these small? And but what the heck does any of this self-contained ethos before parodied, perhaps in a silly way, call it by the bad name of New England stereotype or quintessentially American, at least the thoroughly institutional and mostly corporate variety, since I happen to be in its vicinity, really have to do with other types, say the descendants of Barcino, those who still place the playful figure of the caganer (the one squatting down taking a shit) in the nativity scene for Christmas, of the mythical Carthaginian and Roman foundation of the Mediterranean city, a mere 1645 years before the foundation of Bostonia, and I am sure they will feel the pride vis-à-vis Madrid as well? The point is that there is some silencing “American” collaboration embedded in Resina’s strategic discourse playing up some “minority” cultural features, without ever as far as I can tell disrupting conventional “native” frames, besides his disinclination for agitation within corporate university spaces in the U.S. and elsewhere else, I suppose.

 

 

Thus, tinker with any type of authority claim, and produce the necessary argumentation and see to one’s enlightened interests? The sophistry of the technocratic persona seeking the administrative recapitalization of the institution currently in crisis, I do not think any one will be in a position of claiming exceptional status otherwise convincingly, and in the meantime I put my “Iberian” proposal, which is not your Hispanism, Hispanic studies, postcolonial and cultural studies modality on that side of the institutional wall? Is this fundamentally Resina’s horizon with or without the defenestrations of the Hispanic and the Spanish markers of desirable meaningfulness? The article cites from no one in the field he is supposed to be promoting and defending. So he is a founding father of sorts. Gumbrecht will surely join him in the vicinity of the “French and Italian” section inside “the division of literatures, cultures and languages” and the specificity of the immediate institutionality is not entirely gratuitous or banal.

Resina’s mission, keep the coy in it and make it strategic, adverbally speaking: “[to] bashfully point to traditions that have been ignored, to relations brought out of joint, and to academic spaces that exist when they do, in the crevices of the curricular plaster and departmental drywalls” (p. 97). And I am still wondering how comfortably he feels in the American English language of that split infinitive verbal use and whether he would call his English one of his main languages together with Catalan and Spanish, and some dry-skin Latin must still be dangling in there. Proposing the revamping of the sign “literature,” I wonder whether the Iberian courses offered at Stanford will be in form, content and social function fundamentally different from the generality of courses offered under other rubrics, Spanish or Hispanic or Latin American or Romance Studies in most American universities, but someone could make the formalist argument that Resina’s Almodovar courses would do marvels of epistemic delight shattering the Stanford walls that connect to the nearby road called El Camino Real, product of Iberian colonization. Go explain that to European medievalists on the other side of the Atlantic, should they still hold their own side of the burning candle. And there is certainly a lesson in adjustability and survivability at least up to a point in the how a former Romance-Language medievalist recycles himself in the anti-historicist conjuncture in the modern, foreign languages through modernism, film, tactful minority-identity representations, etc.

There is an uncanny specularity, mirrors of misrecognition, even mirror stages, at play in Resina’s article about the future prospects of Iberian studies. My obvious wish is to link it up with the quick Harvard visit of Prince Felipe acting in the representational role of and for Spanish and Spain. We are talking after all of Iberian landscapes or visions of little or discreet presence inside the always competitive Anglophone society of America of multiple ethnicities and historically many language origins. In this marketplace, there are several branding options operating within a small market share, trying to make it stick within a recognizable, comparable and yet differential consumption pattern, and you will have to take into account your imagined community of customers, consumers, students, colleagues, citizens of various nations, etc. With Gumbrecht being so close: how risky and complex is all or any of this, really?

Resina’s horizon is mostly within what the “business culture” calls “localization:” (I cannot let go of the funny juxtaposition in quotation marks, totally normalized in “modern” American English): make sure your clients identify with the product, that it speaks to them in a seductive tongue, native or foreign, so that they buy it. The very end of the article remains coy in relation to the lack of constituencies for what he wishes to offer but does not quite name with a full mouth and proper foreign accent (Catalan differentialism within the Spanish “suppression,” and his foundational sound bite is that “Spanish” is nothing but suppression and repression, and Catalan is, and you will have to press hard the simplistic binary logic, what but else but the force for good, differential expressionism, more modern, capitalistic, etc. He imputes bad faith to those unnamed colleagues who may put the issue of lack of constituencies for minority languages (for example, Spadaccini in the Moraña’s aforementioned volume says so explicitly in the epilogue, not with any bad animus that I can detect). But do you really need the retired member of Golden Age Studies to tell you what the weather is like in relation to the general dearth of sustained customers and serious consumers of the cultural commodity abbreviated as the grotesque generic of the “foreign languages”? If you build it, they will come, Resina’s attitude, building upon Samuel Weber’s work about institutions and interpretations, incongruously leans on Mignolo approvingly about minority-language promotion inside U.S. academic settings. It appears an odd choice from more than one angle of vision. There is here more blindness than insight. There is also cherry-picking, and the insinuation of a strategic foucaultianism say, a kind of ad hoc interventions in the ruins of studies (peninsular, Iberian, Romance, Spanish, Area, etc.) yet bringing forth what, disrupting but if anything?

You must believe me when I say that I have some sympathy for the Resina position, please underline some. I understand where he is coming from, say (immigrant academic trying to make it in the US). His origin is more settled than mine. His is more Lluis Llach, say. Mine is more Manu Chao. Biographically, I was a foraster (outsider) in the island of Majorca of Castilian parents. I lived there from five to eighteen and I never felt like I was part of it, that I belonged there until the end of time. I left as soon as I could never think since I could not breathe in the little island (my first love was a wonderful native blonde of a distinguished family, but that never went through for a whole variety of reasons and there was also a tragic ending). I mention this biographical vignette to underline the following point, that of the marginality and fragility of the critical perspective that informs Resina’s tensions which I do not think find a convincing outlet of expressivity in the immediate context of the American academy, and how on earth could it? Provocatively, the acronym “LGBTQ” (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-, Trans-Sexual, Queer) could offer an uncanny parallel to the “Spanish” (Iberian, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Bable, Andalucian, Canary Island, etc.) dilemmas of minority, differential, or even cultural signification with the foreign dangling in there somewhere visible, but barely.

 

Think of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the current moment of muddy waters, or disciplinary mash-up, euphemistically called “consolidation,” alongside other products, films, corn flakes, music, sports, for example the colorful variations of the t-shirts of teams recognizable internationally, Barcelona and Madrid are two in the imaginary vicinity of Resina, but the main “soccer” share in the American market gravitationally goes for Great Britain, also in the current moment of unprecedented Iberian triumphs. Think of the recent success of the national team, called “La Roja,” with the participation of Barcelona and Catalan players as the cornerstone of the team and even the playing style. Can we think of the academic field as the second league below the most lucrative sports activity, think of the Premier-League level of international football: where would you like to play, if you could? Would you rather continue slicing up the layers of the onion and address the world market from a smaller regionalism or particularity, say play for Catalonia team, or would you rather play for the stronger force and appeal to the bigger market-share units (continentalism of Europe, the Americas, Asia, etc.)? A comparable case reached me about some Welsh football players caught on camera not singing the “God Save the Queen,” the British anthem, in the Olympics! Mutatis mutandis and perhaps I am unrealistic in the equation between international sports and academic / intellectual spaces fighting for symbolic visibility: the marketing space of academic fields in the humanities inside the largely privatized higher education on customer demand in the U.S., very much like discreet Catalan variations within the Spanish space, Irish within the English sphere of influence, both within an European Union in crisis and a declining NATO of geopolitical complicity against the larger world, while the binoculars of the Polyphemus are turning elsewhere. Fair?

 

 

 

The defining issue is that we are dealing on the one hand with globalizations and bigger units, “continentalism” is perhaps one valid name that has it my radar recently, and on the other hand we must navigate on a smaller scale, i.e. state-national, even personal scale on a daily basis with affiliations, attachments, institutionalities, etc. Something that must hit the eye of the beholder is the American disparity (federal nation of imperial projection, with 50 states of the union, with regional markers sometimes barely known to its natives and certainly to most foreigners, and with processes of thinning out, the so-called “the world is flat” so that commodities and peoples can travel theoretically far and fast). In abstract terms, we are caught up in between hegelianisms and historicisms, and there is no easy way out of it, universalist proposals and repudiations of all universalisms, put Jameson and Zizek in the first camp, against most of the cultural-studies and postcolonial practitioners I know, Mignolo, Beverley and Rabasa for example, and yet this is deep waters for most practitioners in fields of Hispanic/Spanish and Latin American Studies, who would mostly be in the second camp, by virtue of cultural difference, typically silently, or by default. There is no way out of this dilemma of universalism and historicism, and the practical American solution, most acutely done in the modern foreign languages is to give your back on history, to close the anti-historicist door and focus instead somewhat on visuality and textuality in the immediate history of the last two centuries, 19th and 20th centuries leaning towards the second half of the last one. Resina knows a thing or two about such gravitational pull, ever so natural in the U.S. This is probably a good joke, say, “do you love the dumb blonde, or the sharp brunette? Or both? Or neither? Or would you rather make sure to have a good woman in each seaport, even a bald one to whom you would sing the blues about showing some good hair to you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

You get the point of the play with the circumstances not necessarily having to go for the either-or of the false binary set-up, Felipe and Joan Ramon, and how much play is there? Amiably, Resina’s hair appears to go in the direction of the more situated historicism, the more regionalist option say, the nation-without-a-state option, mostly since 1975, with some precedent in the first half of last century, but with the focus on the last couple of decades, the Northern-Italy-disposition within the Eurocentric worldview in my opinion, rather than the Pachamama-solidarity of the dark-faces in the night of history down there, or the bare, raw, crude cultural survival of first-generation Mexicans eating their tacos in the Redwood City ten minutes away up north via the Camino Real from Stanford campus in another planet and another revolving galaxy of dark stars. What “Catalan” means historically and socially in this immediate environment is not obvious: one option the missionizing endeavors of the Majorca-born Junipero Serra whose name most Californians will not be able to identify or situate. Do you want to bet? Do you bet Resina would not be in a good institutional position to incorporate historical courses with Serra in them? The point I am making:  the customer does not want those types of (historical) courses and does not know how to articulate what s/he wants and the “market” will say that the customer is always right.

Resina would rather “localize” cultural objects of some potential, call them minority and cultural-differential within the large European frame, at least according to conventional U.S. nomenclature, and within it present the Iberian product, which is a generic placeholder within Spanish /Hispanic, behind which Catalan is strategic identity claim to thus try to appeal to the customers and consumers. Agitation is out of place. As in good marketing, the advertising generates the need that demands the satisfaction, the customer never being primary cause but mostly effect, reaction and some agency within larger forces, and one must underline the some. Should there be lack of customers, you build upon that lack with labor and good luck. But here there no Lacanianism of the ontologically constitutive lack to be embraced. Lack is bad and the luck will have to be tested for the Catalan sign as it is tested for the Spanish, Hispanic, Iberian, Latin signs. Will this be a glorious march through the institutions in any way resembling a science fiction fantasy of a boy and his dog barely surviving in the (American) desert of a professional catastrophe, and the meaningful American chronology is always short, but not sweet, since the 1970s)? I do not see any good situation for the languages in the U.S. and the moment is one of desperate internalization of institutions of higher learning seeking customers and consumers wherever they may find them, most recently from Asia. Americans do not know and probably never will know what it is like to live fully in a bilingual society officially sanctioned, and their political unconscious appears to recoil at infinite landscapes they do not know and they have around their own historical migration corner. But you must never say never and Resina fakes the funk here poorly, impersonating some kind of academic salesman faking it to try to sell the merchandise he says he is interested in, which is what exactly? And who is buying it? The Europeans? The Americans? Spanish and Catalan have an old verb, “mercar,” with connotations of lack of honesty or dodginess about the immediate business at hand (the corny word “emprendimiento” was mentioned earlier in relation to the vignette of Prince Felipe). I see the Prince’s discourse as more sincere and straightforward if still tremendously self-limiting and insufficient, and there must be teams working with, around or behind him. I see Resina’s language more enterprising and deliberate, also more calculating with the aforementioned “cuteness,” more narrow in its academic scope, and infinitely more narrow in reach. “America” does not constitute fundamental house of historical, inspirational being for either Iberian.

 

What I am attacking is Resina’s final attitude of stereotypical American salesmanship unwarranted by the larger crisis of the U.S. context of higher education mentioned earlier in the article. The critical description of things coming from a poor historical place (Hispanism) and passing through a not so good place (cultural studies) find the “fixing” in his version of Iberian Studies. Does anything go here within the horizon of selling? Samuel Pepys used foreign words for the groping of the female body parts of pleasure and delight. Resina uses sweet and cunning Latin to stylize ad hoc pragmatism depending on the circumstances, with crossed fingers behind the back so to speak. This pot calls the kettle black: his bad faith is such that he will put verecundiam to the ad of the argumentum seeking, he says, to recapitalize the old sign “literature” and to re-legitimize it, he claims, in the corporate university. He is pointing fingers at the symbiosis with mutual interest with scholars turned administrators, or literature becoming “letrado” business as the old Spanish scrupulously has it. In short: the Weberian apogee of modernity, the bureaucratic endeavors of literary critics scrupulously offering empty signs of desirability (there is no content to the unnamed juxtaposition of “Catalan” and “literature” in the article as far as I can see). But this “literature” does not matter much either. That is why one more marketing tool is needed, some generic, multi-operational grab-bag sign or “culture.” Conventional American English idiom in strictly business environment is already ahead, here “culture” and “literature” mostly mean not high-crime art of some skill and degree of difficulty and literary modernist misdemeanors, but rather the things we do around here, paper-pushing inside our eminently bureaucratized and supremely corporatized domains.

 

 

 

There is no specificity whatsoever to Resina’s “literature” sign. No school of thought. One does not know if it is the empty sign or vehicle that will have to render positive outcomes. The claim is to reach levels of exhilaration in the unfettered thought, to do risky, complex thoughts, whose?, some generic, efficient fellow academic where exactly? Isn’t this little more than breathing room, cushion, wiggle room for the capitalist logic that thinks of “education” as a not-for-profit enclave, shot through with corporate connections and state entanglements of all sorts, still now in moments of undisguised financial crisis. This was after all the social function of the humanities made explicit in the article, the self-legitimation of capital investment in spaces labeled not-for-profit. I see Resina therefore fundamentally naturalizing market expansion (i.e. bringing forth what has been ignored, what is out of joint, or fell through the crevices of plaster and drywalls). The direct object is missing and not in a glorious fashion. T.S. Eliot’s charge of the lack of “objective correlative” directly applies here. This hand offers a good new paint to try to make the walls look better, if not good. And the new cultural objects do what? One good thing is that Resina does not do glad-handing as far as I can see in this text. And the pressing question is, how fundamentally different is this attitude from Prince Felipe with whom I am positive, our Catalan colleague would not want to have a nice seat at the dinner table, if invited? I did not see him in the said Harvard event, but again I did not see the immense majority of his colleagues of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures inside which the Spanish and Portuguese section is located. The localization of these cultural products (Hispanic, Spanish, Latin, Catalan) is a bit like the previous anecdote of the Ribera del Duero wines, always poking fun at the   cosmic feeling of disorientation among the vast majority of American customers and consumers getting somewhat used to a relative imperial decline, an increasing Hispanic presence, the greater visibility of soccer and wine, perhaps to the resilience of “foreign” languages, the emergence of other geographies and temporalities of meaningfulness, but ever so gradually. The situation gets more dramatic and serious if you substitute these previous markers (Spanish, Hispanic, Latin, Catalan…) for others and the disorientation becomes systematic and symptomatic of larger forces, call them capitalist. You only have to look at the label attached to any commodity around you to see the rich “literature” and “culture” attached to it (the franchise, brand, retail, advertisement, etc.). These are the major forces whirling all around us and the suggestion is again not to get too caught up in the language of nationalism, even if as a cheeky sports-fan of an administrator in a rundown institution put it, “no, Americans do not like being in other countries’ timezones catching up with sports in which they are not number one.”

There is no excuse for such a deeply entrenched ignorance of larger worlds not labeled “American,” that will not go away the day of tomorrow. And you and I must of course retain some good cheer and some critical solidarity with the Catalan cousin, and I wish to emphasize the some. Resina remains business-like in his strictly academic business focus, and he is not glad, which is entirely fine, but remains, at least to me, fundamentally unpersuasive in a coy or cute kind of way in relation to the full articulation of the desirability of his own programmatic changes (form, content, not to mention social function of the scholarly/academic role within the corporate universities). Could it be that we are always already within the narrow institutionalist or management horizon of endless variation games of technocratic/bureaucratic “renewal” or better upkeep every few years or so? The most biting lines of Resina appear to go in the direction of  Spanish / Hispanic studies within American institutionality (there is relegation of the few citations of a few of these colleagues in the endnote apparatus, there is no citation of other colleagues in comparable “Iberian” themes in other localities outside the U.S. There is a certain U.S.-centrism at least in this article in this Eurocentrism of Catalan-centered Iberian-named imaginary space –bye bye to the Romance-Studies tent– that still builds the former federal-national template as tabula rasa or even better as American desert where nothing inspirational or epistemic grows and will ever grow. The eminent domain is higher-education institutionality, but a deliberately narrow and self-restricting focus. Resina does not really express his feelings of rage against the machine at the totality of the American university system inside a degrading capitalism (no rauxa and fura here). He reserves some of that for his immediate competitors, mostly left unnamed, inside marginal fields of cultural difference, but the binoculars are pointing at elite-corporate sectors exclusively. The collaboration proposed, the marriage of convenience, is between this new brand of Iberian studies and the corporation with or without some strategic appeal to repressed “nation,” in his case there is only one (“studies” is even more generic than “literature,” “culture” is by now naturalized, and the strategy of the salesman is here comparable to other environments, for example, the film ratings of the motion picture associations of America when they advise to pay attention to (bad) “language,” or when conventional Americans tell the newcomer they detect an (foreign) “accent:” the evaluative adjectives are missing and the mechanism of antagonism and repudiation is left strategically unsaid). Such university space is increasingly de-stabilized, and gerrymandered, the timeframe of belonging increasingly discontinuous and ad-hoc, the interests eminently short-term, personalized and individualistic. The marriage of convenience makes claims for the mutual benefit of the two parties, the corporation and its “literature” within the ideal horizon of recapitalization of the small spaces of latter, hardly ever an institutional priority, and by extension of the former.

Put it in yet another way: Resina leaves empty, and strategically so, the assumption of the force of good of his own academic practice relabeled with the old label of “Iberian Studies.” He does not want to say Spanish or Hispanic, even though this is his “natural” institutional location in the U.S., where else but the “curse” of the national origin? He would like to say Catalan, and say it more often, and perhaps louder, playing that trumpet more be-bop than cool jazz say, but he knows by now, and who does not?, of the deaf native ear to the beauties of regional thickness outside the U.S., but also inside, following simplification strategies of lightness of being marketable, and of the virtual unintelligibility of such sign, Catalan and how many others with it?, for the immense majority of American customers and consumers inside the classrooms, not to mention the streets and the shopping malls. And the tough questions, why “localize”? Well, because it may be a good business strategy. O.k., but don’t they always already speak the lingua franca? Hence, a little local color and that’s that, no? And how to make it both ways, why should I bother with that specificity out there in the peaceful provinces of the allied tribes in the Mediterranean shores when other world areas appear problematic?

 

The orthodox academic logic appears to be one that follows, ever so docilely I must say, the internal differentiation of already recognizable products (different types of soda and cereal flavors inside the visible brand, I have mentioned the generic “LGBTQ” within an assumption of repressive heteronormativity, feel free to brake the label down into smaller constituencies and go into so much diversity, diverse in any way all the way without ever touching the bottom of the ghost of sameness, yet firmly within the parameters of the institutionalized, at least in some “liberal” sectors, human-resources stipulation of “sexual identity,” also within the “diversity” quota, inside the silent majority of the phantasmatic same assumed more or less repressive, regressive, inevitable, etc. Hence, the liberal tickle down and the tweaking… Abusing the Latin once again, mutatis mutandis Resina’s Catalan within the Spanish /Hispanic /Iberian label never in good shape within the market share inside and outside university sectors? My affirmative answer would go further in the direction of the proliferation of studies, currently slowing down a bit, following the logic of minimal differentiation within a certain label and product brand following the apparent inevitability of newness, or “permanent modernity,” also inside labels such as “minority” and “diversity” within the perennially fragile template of the “humanities,” virtually unrecognizable by name in the U.S., and the “liberal arts” is no salutary improvement either, almost identical, and I am pushing the analogy to prove the point of the virtual commodification of knowledge production, to the fashion logic of selective variation games within a certain horizon of consumer and customer recognition of the brand name and the recognition formula produced by its industry of more or less defined boundaries and practices, rituals and events and seasons, etc. The Olympic Games have acted as one easily recognizable sports of kitsch and camp background also for Resina’s Iberian Studies proposal in the university setting not fundamentally different from other industries (we may think standardization and serialization in fashion, music, film, fast food, etc. and bring some of that to fields of knowledge production as well, Lilliputian cups of tea and storms in them included). One type of sociological type of work I find persuasive in this regard is that of Gilles Lypovetsky, The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy (1994), particularly in the context of wealthy European democracies, now in deep crisis, and the U.S. has always already been more plebeian and crass in relation to the total horizon of the university commonwealth, and the type of systemic trivialization theorized by the French sociologist, and not condemned by him in toto will certainly go many places (former Madrid Major and distinguished sociologist of the early PSOE years, Enrique Tierno Galván has some essays in this regard as well, still readable and generally persuasive, Desde el Espectáculo a la Trivialización (Madrid: Taurus, 1961)).

 

But really, what are Resina’s protestations about? The modesty of the past of Hispanism in the Spanish-language mostly in relation to literary endeavors in a market-share that was never great in the first place and still is not. And he, acting as a “liberator” of what exactly?, will go about how such marker is perennially repressive, etc. This is what I have described as dodgy, which is also the quintessential “American” attitude of good salesmanship that puts the customer first and foremost, so it says upon the holy Book, within the “symbiotic” collaboration with the corporation until it is time to move on to the next one, if you are lucky, and everyone reading this will automatically understand the precariousness of all these unions (I am also punning on the “state of the union,” so feel free to contemplate the highest federal-national level, the U.S. domain, all the way down to the specific institutional contract of medium to short-term employment for the immense majority of professional practitioners undergoing streamlining if not deprofessionalization and “final solution” and liquidation sale of the labor practice put inside the not-for-profit education-sector; and you may play, if you wish as well, with the personal high cost of transience and itinerancy, of “mobility” as they called it when they meant job precariousness and with the “divorce” rate of all these conjugal unions and marriages of convenience inside institutions playing strategic attachments and detachments with their immediate city, region, state, empty semi-rural mid-west and of course the decentered “united states” of impermanence, the American sociologist Daniel Bell called the U.S. the society of no center, not meaning it as a insult as you know).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Catalan colleague must survive professionally like everybody else. No one will blame him for that. The issue is what kind of intellectual message is he sending to American society and other societies out there. The great Stanley Fish used to joke in the Duke classrooms with some bite: aim low and you will get it typically right! So, come down from the intellectual heights in your splendid solitude to the academic divisions of language, literature, culture –remember the suspiciousness at the deliberate avoidance of evaluative and specific adjectives aforementioned?– and go further down to the lower and most common levels of socialization in the American streets. What kind of social message is Resina putting on the discussion table? To me, he remains faithful, with a flexible, non-denominational, rather light faith, remember his own Latin formula, to the best service needed to “recapitalize” academic institutionality of the foreign humanities and the capitalist corporation (these are two more c letters to the previous series also typically silenced at least on the part of the managers). It is vox populi that these two allegorical figures have been seen in bed at least since the 1970s in some kind of intimate association, and Resina fundamentally says that there is no need to make any noise about it, that this is largely fine and dandy, that there is no need to bring any noise, distress or dissent, thank you very much, that resistance is futile, and that in good stereotypical Catalan seny or commonsense business sense we must all try to profit from such relationship, if they let us and if we can, that capital is the natural law of the mental horizon, and perhaps the political unconscious as well, and whatever authority or legitimacy may be around the block, we will have to make sure to have a few serviceable and practical arguments handy in the handbag or the back pocket to win the tipping point over to the good side, presumably of “literature,” and there is some “culture” in it, but too much of either, these old names light in their etymology, light in their history, no medievalisms so to speak, no transatlanticisms and no postcolonialisms, thank you very much again, and in the meantime feel free to evacuate the Spanish or Hispanic signs of desirability, repressing the repressive “Spanish,” which is nothing but repressive, never however in any radical or hardcore, thorough or complete fashion show and tell, but tell less. Bite your tongue a bit never question the big frame of things, much less tickle the specificities of your immediate corporation. No drastic, final solutions either, I would think, for the main reason that Catalan marker will go down the tubes without the vanishing mediator of the Spanish / Hispanic, even the “Latin” marker, at least on the thinning Iberian imaginary on the other side of the Atlantic, the minority, diversity horizon for the predominant understanding of such Spanish / Hispanic and even “Latin” markers from the perspective of the immense majority of American customers and consumers who might still be after all tempted to approach the European market of cultural goods, and such approach is something I particularly feel it is still crucial (from Plato to NATO, boutique Europe but the U.S. is the land of European migration and also of “gourmet fast food” so you must know how to play smart about things, also in academic settings). But all the other continents are here implicated, and the five Olympic rings will constitute a recent nice reminder. When my fellow Americans would perhaps argue for two other continents missing in action, much less so in university course requirements, should we grant them knowledge rights according to consumer logic and customer nonsense as practiced for example by the appalling exclusive NBC coverage of such games for the American market share within the world market of sports?

 

You may fish out the initial question: what do we really talk about when we talk about Spanish in the United States of America? Now we have landed in the virtual land of the inhumanities. Consider the “foreign” language of franchises, brands, retailing, market shares, sourcing, real estate and processes of dematerialization and virtualization, commodification of language and image also inevitably in the broadcast of events such as sports, of the “time is money,” but also “space is money,” or matters of location, or geographical divisions and partitions into economic zones and world areas, monopoly rights and (eminent) domains, degradation and gentrification of urban areas… I vividly recall waking up to the nightmare realization in the Stanford campus while I was a faculty there planning a lecture series that the building spaces around me were not immediately available to me gratis, except my own departmental building, not even for academic activities, but that such use came up with a timeframe and a bill and how fund-raising was needed, etc… No free lunch in America. The initial question wanted to look at the blinding light of such complex processes referred to by such capitalist “foreign language.” And one tough question: could it be that we are fundamentally talking about “race-and-ethnic” variations of the same capitalist game of goods, labeled “cultural” with or without good reasons?

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