Archive for December 2011

The U.S. Area Studies’ Frame of Intelligibility of Latin American Studies

(or, tanto monta, monta tanto: Rolena como Fernando).

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

 

 

This is about the theme that will not go away: the capture of “foreignness” by cultures of scholarship, particularly in relation to the “nativism” of the immediate circumstance or the timespace of 21st century U.S., call it imperial if you wish. This is also about the (de-)associations between historical sensibilities, within if not against large bureaucratic-institutional settings, obviously incorporating a variety pack of schools and approaches, practitioners and reader responses, native and foreign, in the home of the brave, never to be left alone. This is finally about the academic configuration of Spanish-language instruction, and / or Latin Americanity, surely the strongest unit, or the unit with the most potential, with or without “ironies” or “unintended consequences,” and the quotation marks will become explicit further down in these pages directly concerned with one piece by Rolena Adorno, a recognizable name particularly in the subfield of “colonial studies.” She will emphasize the sign “literature” or “literary criticism” inside such studies, and probably “culture,” but if the former term is losing momentum and impact, assuming it once first had it, while the latter term is hollowed out tremendously in its commercial overuse (and who can afford to neglect the commercial dimension?). One early anecdote: the career-center person in a certain University of some name and fame, did not hesitate to ask the graduate student, with no hint of irony and loads of consequence, “colonial studies, what’s that?” Welcome to the profession.

The article in question: “Havana and Macondo: The Humanities in U.S. Latin American Studies, 1940-2000,” [“Havana and Macondo” from now on] written by Rolena Adorno. It is included in the collection of essays under the title The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, edited by David A. Hollinger (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006; pp. 372-404). This is an end to a project of the Boston-based institution American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which Adorno is a member. Such institution may not have a strong international name recognition, but it does signify domestically, which is what matters. The issues addressed in such collection are obviously meaningful in relation to the ecumenic sign of “the humanities,” and the name remains odd in the U.S. streets, continue kicking your tin can a decade after the previous welcome, virtually interchangeable with humanist, humanism and humanitarian, and all these weak. Yet, the main question is here for us to explore the relation with the specific modality of the humanities, the subsection Latin American Studies, most typically conceptualized inside the world coverage by the name of “Area Studies” (the immediate platform of observation or circumstance, the U.S. is not considered a “(world) area,” and this “out-of-world-placeness,” perhaps not quite “otherworldliness,” is symptomatic of many things, some of which will be touched here somewhat). One early question to tickle the ribs: How many members with Spanish last names, other than Cuban provenance, do you think will share a permanent seat in the section “literary criticism” with our noted Yale colleague? Closer to 2, 22, or 222? Adorno’s significant colonial-studies scholarship is situated, willingly by her also, in the  literary branch (she would gladly keep her distance from the disciplinarity of “history” and “social-science,” but also from tendencies such as “postcolonial studies,” or “cultural studies,” perhaps only accepted in the blandest and most generic sense, and our moment is such that college presidents with law degrees and even technology and engineering entrepreneurs give lip service to the importance of the liberal arts). Be this as it may, the “unintended consequences” and “ironies” are borrowed by our colleague from the social sciences, incongruously, perhaps also in the political sense of the expression (more about this later). In any case, the humanities representative borrows the basic template, perhaps mode / mood also, although much more piano, piano, from one critical representative of the social sciences, much beloved by me, which is putting the humanities in the ancillary position of having to borrow what does not appear to be in their constitution in the first place. Call it interdisciplinarity, if you wish. And how often do you see the borrowing gesture working the mojo of the return the other way round? That is the way the cookie crumbles apparently, and culture bites has already included a second example in relation to Greenblatt’s most recent book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011), also a colleague of Adorno, but not of Cuban origin, in identical section in the aforementioned institution. A second anecdote, old-timers in the profession –the so-called baby-boom generation—used to project, but candidly?, how much better the situation is now in comparison with how things were, and this was more the case five or ten years ago than now, which made you then more and no less worried. I would rather have you talk about the bad new days and less of the good old ones we never had. Truism: the establishment does not like sustained expressions of discontent, particularly of an articulate, intellectual kind, and that is one of the reasons of the hollowing out of academicism instead of a decisive, invigorated upswing. There is abundant concern and modulated discontent in Hollinger’s volume and this is to be much appreciated, accordingly.

Adorno’s “Havana and Macondo” is the last article in the fourth and the final section titled “Area Studies at Home and Abroad.” This double adverb is something of an equivocation since the focus is American higher education or university setting, with or without the inclusion of foreign voices sometimes operating in foreign localities as it is the case with Adorno’s essay: it is about “here,” and not “there,” if you know what I mean. All the chickens come “home” to roost here. There are no fat capons flying in the opposite direction going funny places. No Du Bois’s gesture of renunciation at the end of his life in Adorno’s piece for example. This would be unthinkable and radical and perhaps it is needed, if only as utopian possibility of the imagination so that we are never cornered to believe de facto or de iure that we are always already self-sufficient institutionally. And this is probably the strongest intuition coming out of “Havana and Macondo” in the end: the naturalization of the institutionality of the profession of the humanities, add the peanut and the butter, the Latin and American, with a bit of Spanish and Hispanic, if you wish, and even though there is some claim of dialogue, you know this euphemism for controlled spaces as well. Will the last ones come first in the end of time? Perhaps. In the meantime, the previous three sections of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II address the question of commonality and the role of the scholar, the mixed legacy of the European dimension in relation to émigré intellectuals, particularly in relation to the discipline of philosophy, and early dilemmas appertaining to Catholic, Black and Women scholars. The title of the volume begs the question of the negative opposite to the theoretical good name of inclusion, pick your favorite (exclusions, obstacles, dilemmas, etc.), and one of the most biting articles will have to be the first one by John Guillory about the consolidation of social hierarchies in the vicinity of the education industry in a general process of streamlining, if not liquidation of the humanities, and of “failure” of something more than the notion of “General Education” (pp. 25-49). Other incisive reflections are by David C. Engerman about the configuration of Russian Studies (pp. 314-4), hard to believe how powerful such units were not so long ago; Leila Zenderland about American [read: U.S.] studies (pp. 273-313); Bruce Kuklic about the field of philosophy (pp. 159-188); and John McGreevey about the normalization of the Catholic faith and its representative universities in a country that used to think of itself as Protestant, and perhaps still does (pp. 189-216). In essence, Adorno’s attitude is dutiful and hardworking, if much more benign and benevolent, always polite and proper, a bit too much?, more on the innovations, the “consolidation,” and the “growth” of her specific field, Latin American literature, than on the lingering difficulties, the persistent dilemmas and the hard obstacles, making perhaps good of the impression that the numbers of allies in influential places remain very small, and that many more would be needed for an insurgency, not to mention a revolution of the studies of culture side by side conventional geopolitical investment in world coverage, which is the main frame of intelligibility to be put on the table. It was Europe in the Wilsonian moment, and it was Soviet Russia in the Cold War as it appears that all eyes are on China now, with India and Japan kind of in there, and this has nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the Coco Chanel perfume, or the marmite on your bread, the vodka and the caviar, the Dim Sum or the sushi and the curry, but with the all- American practical pro-business attitude that seeks the companionship of the strongest rival and competitor, Europe receding to junior-partner, docile status of relative benign neglect in the same civilizational package of the West. What follows will develop the “abroad” of the Latin American location always already from the “home” of the North American standpoint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be optimistic for a change and think the opposite of “consolidation” and “growth” (I still remember the self-promotional use of “vibrant” for upbeat prose and I thank Adorno that she does not do it quite like that, because there could be none whatsoever, things can only get worse, and it is fair to kick your tin can in the US streets and wonder if a little bit of coverage is necessarily better than none of it whatsoever (better to imagine fat capons in the sky than the permanent seat at the dinner table of conventional area-studies allocation, particularly in relation to Adorno’s field of preference?). In Adorno’s carefully crafted essay, your youthfulness should not expect therefore apostasies from official belief systems, but also no powerful and drastic, even theatrical gestures of explicit discontent in our penurious times. Instead, be reasonable and realistic and wait for a piecemeal reconstruction of the relevant scholarship inside the institutional map that includes private universities, the fingers of one hand are enough, mostly on the East Coast of the proud nation. In other words, she plays essentially close to (institutional) home and she plays it eminently safe, so safe a hypothetical anti-Hispanic conglomerate would not object to such findings of Latin American literature with consolidation and growth and all. The institutional map is small, and the departmental map is smaller, and one wonders if the academic business is fundamentally about institutional reproduction with this or that type of content figuratively tied up around some kind of vanishing center. Isn’t the liberal ideology about the free flow of ideas irrespective of the content of the ideas?, which is another way of saying that the content of the ideas is banal and the idealism, a mirage of such banality. What appears to matter is something else and John Guillory in the aforementioned article gives one kind of answer, which I happen to find persuasive. Adorno does not venture into these sociopolitical waters of the immediate institutionality and she will have her good reasons. Or, is it about keeping a buttoned-up and straight-laced demeanor, the stoic mannerisms, of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say, also in these impecunious times? But then one falls for the swinging of the liberal ideological disposition in relation to the immediate timeframe of the (post-)Cold War and the rock & rolling of the floating boat holding a few good individuals, never many, and producing exactly what kind of knowledge production. Because, this must be about “humanistic” knowledge in late capitalism, particularly in relation to the theme of functional or even subjugated foreignness. Isn’t the referentiality of “Area Studies” always towards an “outside” of the immediate circumstance (or another timespace or “history,” or the non-English into the “foreign languages,” etc.)? Yet again, Adorno’s attitude is one that naturalizes institutionality, that does not say anything bad about it, and such attitude cannot contemplate the fragility of field constitution and processes of deterioration or de-institutionalization. Not a tiny weeny little bit of Guillory here, thank you very much. Such is the abyss never to contemplate in public, much less jump over to the other side in the fierce style of a sexy heroine running away from the bad guys in a good action movie. There are no bad guys in Adorno’s story-telling of the history of the Latin American profession in the U.S. In fact, there are no bad guys in history, in Latin America or elsewhere, not in Macondo, not in Havana, since the 1980s, at least for her generational moment, which is where the true story of the academic profession really begins, and this is her core interest. I wonder if this eminently quiet rendering goes along nicely with the by now commonplace of firing the scholarly salvo, the need to decolonize fields of scholarship, which took place in such Hispanic and Latin American Studies vicinity, during the Reagan years (more about this later).

Be this as it may, we are here dealing, and please keep a critical sense of humor, with the beginning of history, or the history of what matters, i.e. academic professionalism, here in relation to the “minority” field of Latin American literary scholarship in the home of Uncle Sam. Mind you: the film of it is not dense and thick, and the onion of this “history” is typically sliced up in thin slices, typically in one-to-three decades. This intense thinness is what affects your livelihood, professionally speaking. In “Havana and Macondo,” history begins with the Cold War, pointedly with the 1960s, and the gravitational force finds a “third space” very near where Adorno makes a living, still to this day say situated somewhere between Boston and New York. This is the immediate institutional space that matters mostly and with and around it others, domestically speaking (news must have reached you of the appointment of Adorno by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where she represents the world of Hispanic Studies). So it is important to pay attention to who is visible talking about what and who is not. I would still like to argue that the chapter arrangement informing The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II holds something of a hierarchical meaning, the allocation of a mostly Spanish-speaking Latinity as an afterthought so to speak, and I will make sure to pull the question out of the notebook next time I coincide with the editor of the volume in a collegial gathering either in between Boston and New York, Havana, Macondo or Calcutta. I don’t think I will be the only one to hold true that “minority” or “peripheral” fields of knowledge production have to piggyback on the bigger shoulders of more influential fields inside academic politics, inevitably inside the big game of geopolitics, and the connection is never a direct one inside bureaucratized spaces, or at least the smaller kids will give it a try. And here polemics is perhaps always, I find, a sign of strength, even if the desired short-term goal is not achieved. The “game” could be of course one of not letting oneself be entirely shaped by geopolitical considerations, one of faith to “error” and “deviation” say, and this is one of the “subversive” desires of the article in question: “gaming the system,” as the current lingo has it. But, how genuinely, and how seriously, that is the question. Does Adorno’s scholarship allow for such genuine “bad behavior” outside official US geopolitics? Despite the reference to  Immanuel Wallerstein, who is up there in my own pedestal of unconventional scholarly inspiration, I would have to say that I don’t think so.

What are then the liberal arts, or the humanities, if not one of these funny “minority” creatures? What are Spanish-language endeavors and Latin American studies, particularly of the historical, colonial variety, if not a rare and precious cultural variety, of the same “peripheral” type genus? How common is it to have at least one good pre-19th century specialist per institution of higher learning in the land of the free? Feels like historical being is of the essence of Man in Hegelese accordingly? Vigorous epistemic diachronicity of the subordinate language? In the little pond, specialization has been swallowed up by a certain kind of generalism inside an embedded, structural discontinuity that is much more than a mere theme (subjects and objects of knowledge production, inside the current working conditions of precarious employment, publishing venues, etc.). Think of a vanishing center, a center that cannot hold, imagine a vortex, and you have the reason of existence of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, the best of it is still the rigorous concern for inherited obstacles that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome. Still, you will find no lamentations and no protestations from the only “Spanish” representative in the rich anthology that contains quite a few loud statements. Adorno’s is ground zero of intellectual and social discontent. Zip. Nil. Nada de nada: nothing “bad” is said about anything under the sun on planet earth, now that our post-Cold-War set-up has eliminated the old-fashioned nomenclature of the three worlds, and the label of the Third World is indirectly alluded to, when it has not been wiped out, like blood under the carpet. But it is still here, or at least its ghost, whenever Latin America is still largely imagined, not quite part of the “West” in conventional English-speaking settings largely unfamiliar with labels such as Indias Occidentales and postcolonial post-occidentalist proposals, and I know these are too many syllables for your average spelling bees. Adorno’s double predilection: to defend the specificity of literature and the permanent location of Latin Americanity in US Academy. Worthy goals indeed even if you feel inclined to Virilian explorations of our post-literacy contemporaneity. And about the “Latin” over there, or over here? Perhaps our dear colleague feels this is the most she can do, or wants to do. My fundamental critique is that this is not enough, that much more has to be said and done, even if the short-term goal is not immediately achieved, particularly in light of the bittersweet cultural bites of colleagues, more bitter than sweet mind you, included in the anthology propitiated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Havana and Macondo” has the strong feel of an encyclopedic entry. Hence expect virtues and flaws accordingly. It reads a bit like an addendum to The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature (2005) [Cambridge History from now on] edited by Enrique Pupo-Walker and Roberto González Echevarría, with whom our author holds many solidarities. The mode and mood in the article is –how to say it politely?– very Rolena: history is institutional history and it is so through and through, with no fissures, and naturalized in such a way that there is no hint of trouble in the pipelines or glitch or single note indulging in dissonance (perhaps the reference to Wallerstein to be included later?).  There is ample use of citations in reduced Ivy-League circles in relation to the most controversial and certainly most salient issues, yet touched upon ever so gently as never to disturb the gentle sleep of the managerial class next door. There is always discreet self-positioning, in a secondary position say, and larger diachronic vistas are largely coming through the Cuban channel of communication in the same department of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale; the mood, neutral, as if tiptoeing along with the breeze through the tulips in privatized spaces of social and historical privilege: no big desire of the theoretical possibility of anti-institutional intellectuality hinted at here (and what is Wallerstein if not a big “trouble-maker”?). Will our esteemed colleague wish to mount an epistemic insurrection? I fail to see, I must say, any fractures in the US house of knowledge production coming from this perspective and I remain open to stay corrected. The language is upbeat in a kind of mid-west type of upbeat: Spanish-language study … “has gained its proper place in the humanities enterprise as the means by which to know the Latin American literary canon and to explore the contestatory visions that have arisen around it in relation to the social realities of today” (p. 393). The comparison is with –what else but?– French, virtual academic ghost of what it was by the time I write these pages in comparison to its former intellectual strength, go ask some French colleagues if they let themselves get caught dead in the corner of old-fashioned departmental entities such as “Romance Languages and Literatures” (the label remains institutionally functional, virtually unintelligible at the street level). Obstacles to bilingualism are not addressed (the very word “bilingual” has become a loaded term put in the corner in favor of “dual-language;” in “liberal” Massachusetts, for example, “[m]any programs for English-language learners were thrown into disarray in 2002, after Massachusetts voters abolished widespread use of bilingual education, which allows students to learn subjects in their native tongue until they are nearly fluent in English. The new law stresses teaching all subjects in English, using a student’s native tongue sparingly;” “US finds statewide school problems,” by James Vaznis, Boston Globe, Sept. 17, 2011; the U.S. House of Representatives passing bills for “official English, (“Should English be the Law”, by Robert D. King, http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/97apr/english.htm). And there is a peculiar American mindlessness about the official status of a common cultural good, heritage or patrimony, that when activated appears to go mostly in one monolingual way, at least in most visible channels of communication. What to say, always politely about the “foreign languages” in the home of the brave? Who is willing to jump into the fray? It is of course much more than “language learning.” Those interested in these language issues may turn to the lecture series “Talking Heads / Cabezas Parlantes” delivered at Oberlin College (2010-11):

1) “Three Big Problems with Modern Foreign Languages;”     (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=49);

2) “Avatars of the Spanish Language in the Home of the Brave;”     (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=82);

3) “Fear of a Hispanic Planet” (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=171);

4) “Apropos Harvest of Empire” (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?m=201106).

“Havana and Macondo” is no disclosure of any discomfort, irresolution, quarrel, or pain. It is instead a conventional academic repression of these nouns. All is quiet on this side of the Western front in the securing of a permanent seat in US higher education for Latin American scholarship in the vicinity of Spanish-language studies. The article has the feel of a presentation in high society of a still relatively young field of “foreign” studies to the “natives” who might have ventured into one or two novels of magical realism in translation. The intellectual attitude: a “conservative” disposition towards the defense of the specificity of the literariness of the Spanish-language-mostly object of study circumscribed inside the general rubric of Latin American literature, with or without some indigenous languages such as Quechua or Aymara in the case of Adorno’s scholarship, typically not “strategic” as the security-based, foreign-affairs rubric has it. Spanish is largely not strategic or priority language either. Latin American literature is arguably a significant player in the variation games of the foreign-language difference in the U.S., and perhaps one could radicalize this observation by stating that this is the one and only habitat where the Spanish language circulates officially in the US above the bare-level of grammar exercises and elementary literacy. Since Adorno wants to defend the “literature” side of colonial studies, I offer one early provocation: does subalternity signify mostly fictionally inside conventional institutional spaces of higher learning? And what would the claim of “literature” do in such historical subaltern domains? I feel that Adorno transculturizes the name of “literature” clinging to the small purchase it currently has in American and global societies without wanting to venture deeply into critical investigations that might well put the name in a bad and more limited space, call it minority if you wish. And yet careful with the American lingo: there are minorities and minorities…

I miss a bit the tinkering with the Cold-War Area-Studies template and its conventional categories. Think of this one: U.S. Latin American (area) studies and the intersection with Spanish-language studies. The territory covered here is mostly in the eminent domain of fictional letters or “literature” (the Portuguese side of things is conveniently referred to her Yale colleague K. David Jackson, also in the recurrent Cambridge History). Most would agree that the post-Cold-War is cat’s cradle of categories and formats that are perceived to be obsolete. Yet no sustainable replacements are yet visible inside the general push towards internationalization and globalization of “world literature.” If the academic language of “cultural difference” is not sufficient, the U.S. street language of “racial profiling” may give you some suggestions for the allocation of objects and subjects of knowledge production in our disorienting moments.  In relation to these cognitive mappings, I would characterize Adorno’s position as insufficiently Kalimanesque and anti-Mignolesque (more about this later): the automatic identity of the Latin American problems informing the inside interests of the discipline [of Latin American cultural studies] (the endnote 132 on p. 404) implies the identity of the discipline with the problems inside some circumscribed timespace. I would quarrel with that identity which is still commonplace practice, or assumed belief system, or default mechanism to make sense of an area-studies portion of the whole world cake that does not dare speak truthfully its epistemological premises any longer. “Latin America” is thus “out there,” mind you, or at any rate, “in dialogue” with the self-declared representatives by the name of “Latinamericanists,” and this is all fine and dandy as long as they or we stick to their turf without disrupting anything big or anything else. Assertion which, again, falls flat on its ugly face when one considers the multi-directional or multi-referential behavior of the sign “Latin America” among many other signs, within the areas and the studies of area-studies, unless you are happy to assume the fallacy of univocity that Latin Americans know most of their Latin American reality out there and that the best thing one scholar can do in here in the U.S. is to be faithful mirror of nature, and be a connector, a purveyor, a provider, to give escort service of such problematic “reality” for our enlightened self-interest. This is unreal, global village of rigid insides and outsides, yet in relation to what third point of observation caught in between the U.S. and Latinamerica?, but also of  the tautological, literalist game that insists on the identifiable, positive location of the identity, always within bounds, of the subject position and the subject matter, or content, in relation to underrepresented fields, yet mostly with the intent, not necessarily a good one, of keeping them identifiable, in their proper, official place of relative, partial or local meaningfulness, when not “minority” and “peripheral,” often with smiling faces, as a way of keeping them down and out of centers or cores. Areas of the world according to what dominant, non-literary perspective and organizing principle, if not the immediate U.S. Foreign policy? What “unintended consequences” will Adorno be defending if not in relation to the intentionality of central command (I use military language with a hint of Le Carré-spy-novels feel)? The post-Cold-War delivers the acute crisis of Area Studies model –something Immanuel Wallerstein among others—have emphasized a long time ago in direct reference to the social sciences (endnote 17, p. 395; Wallerstein is included in relation to a volume edited by Noam Chomsky in 1997; now this is an old reference which does not appear epistemologically and politically congruent with the main drive in “Havana and Macondo,” while also keeping the “trouble-maker” MIT faculty at some distance). There is a Peruvian Spanish slang term that carries disruptive meaning here: brichero, from “bridge,” typically used in relation to the local Peruvian person, typically male, who is willing to have intercourse, in all the senses of the word, with visiting foreigners). What kind of cultural mediation is brichera Adorno doing with the historical Peruvian merchandise of Guaman Poma de Ayala on the U.S. and by default also the international platforms? Think of intercourse in all directions, of traffic and networks, of supple frames of intelligibility, of the apparent boundary-free of the worldwide web, and it appears to me that most, if not all the claims to specificity, exceptionalism or uniqueness are not persuasive any longer, if ever. And yet how to push harder the native-and-foreign (con-)fusions in relation to the arts and sciences?

Now, “Havana” is shorthand for the impact of the Cuban revolution and Adorno’s position, not being a Cuban scholar, in provenance or focus of object of study, is one of conventional liberal toleration of the Castro regime. Her cultural merchandise comes mostly from his Yale colleague and mentor González Echevarría, a product of the Cuban diaspora. “Macondo” is shorthand for the international moment of Latin American literary success, the so-called “Boom.” The Baby Boom generation managed to manufacture the Latin Boom around the 1960s-70s. It reached me as an adolescent in Spain where I read these novels with great delight. Who has not fallen in love with Borges and did not share this love with the first love at that time? But, there is also Chile and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Reagan  “contra” scandal –remember Oliver North?– and there are other writers who do not necessarily fit into the Boom marketing. Adorno walks the reader towards the horizon of parallel lines of international politics and U.S. state interests, and here the academic practice, or escort service, of the humanities is introduced as not necessarily always toeing the official geopolitical line, but probably instead crisscrossing other cultural ways, while benefitting from the visibility granted by the larger world of politics. It sounds reasonable enough. And how many members of Latin American Studies deviate and dare challenge U.S. national interests, typically the “modernizing” model in these decades, while pursuing other historiographic trajectories and unconventional or even antagonistic historicist preoccupations? I feel Adorno sins by omission with or without the highlight of the growth of Spanish-language studies in the vicinity of this “hot wind from the South” (p. 376). Read carefully the naturalized euphemism in quotation marks kept at some distance “down there:” revolutionary Left politics ever so close to U.S. state interests.

With the diachronicities explicitly borrowed from Yale quarters, the main insinuation of the piece is the ever tactful Wallerstenian adaptation in the sense of the foreign literary humanities slipping away and out of the grip of U.S. foreign policy interests (I don’t think Wallerstein’s variety of social-science critique has ever focused directly on the changes and transformations taking place in the humanities, cultural studies for example, but I may be wrong here). The trump card was not the federal programs that would “strengthen resistance to totalitarianism,” but rather… “the richly imagined worlds of Latin American literature” (p. 373). Again, who is not going to love such imaginary richness of worlds that are literary? The private funding by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation “did not control the outcomes, which included the 1970s broadening of literary scholarship and criticism to include marginalized or understudied areas or topics, such as colonial studies; and, in the 1980s, the full development of Latin American cultural studies” (p. 392). So, thank you for the attention and thanks to the Cold War moment that “made Latin America a permanent area study in the U.S. academic curriculum” (p. 392). Better the current permanence than the pre-1960s impermanence? Really? The point of comparison is not only with your preceding generations but with your contemporary peers going at knowledge production in other comparable fields of knowledge production. Sardonically, the worst thing that can happen is that things can get worse. The “outreach” of the “cold war strategic agenda was done by generations of academics and students who, from the start, stretched and bent its objectives to their own pursuits” (p. 392). Money people relaxed their concentration on the outcomes? The loosening of the moorings of Latin American studies from the center of private foundations and federal government strategic interests? A modality of benign neglect inside bureaucratic institutions? Better yet: the “consolidation” –pay attention to the conventional euphemism– of institutional needs in impecunious times, the intensification of the privatization of education services in times of financial crisis, the crisis of identity of education and of the humanities at large, the peculiar status of Spanish / Hispanic and Latinity dimensions, etc. What we are seeing is the re-adjustement of the “knowledge factory” to the convulsions and tensions of the present time characterized by the sliding scale of the humanities. How to smile big and wide at the horrific conditioning of the academic labor market also touching on the comparatively large units of Spanish-language studies and Latin American (area) studies? No irony: Adorno sticks to the unforeseen, “ironic” consequences of the U.S. programs that a half century ago, intended to make language and area studies “a discrete area of our official foreign relations” (p. 393), and this is the final sentence in the article. This is a conventional American use of the word irony as somewhat surprising contrast. Upon close inspection, there is little or none of it and the euphemism vanishes.

Of course, “Havana and Macondo” has virtues. The article is good general presentation of famous names largely to an English-speaking North American audience. Without overloading the dices, the names of mostly male authors are included: Neruda, García Márquez, Fuentes, Manuel Puig, and, of course, Borges, who “deepens, rather than denigrates, respect for the human condition” (p. 374). Isn’t this a tight knot of the three adjectives included earlier (humanities, humanist and humanitarian)? This is liberal ideology providing upholstery for the bare-bone furniture frame of naked political interests, and good irony against a certain type of liberalism has to be here underlined around such Spanish-named foreigners of undeniable literary dignity. Think Hall-of-Fame presentation of primary material and this is what “Havana and Macondo” mostly does. Yet, why so little thunder in this sky of the historical imagination? I feel Adorno is closer in mood and mode to Lewis Hanke than Richard Morse (p. 174-5), and yet I wish I had the brio, gusto and vigor of both more often in general in a profession that appears resigned to the ideal utopia of being left alone with the broken furniture in the basements of empty buildings. Am I exaggeration for effect only? Both historians are quoted by Adorno expressing criticism of the strategic and military interests in Spanish-language learning. Impeccable. I still think New World Soundings: Culture and Ideology in the Americas (1989) is fresh in a way Hanke’s scholarship, which I see along the lines of the whitening of the Black Legend has aged a bit, although it is still better than most things around. I suppose that you have to paint white but others paint black. Yet, there is no doubt of the scope of vision of both historians bring to the table with a keen awareness of uneven institutionalizations of North-South relations. Adorno does not include Hanke’s Do the Americas have a common history? (1964), subtitled “A critique of Bolton theory,” an important point of reference, also a collection of essays, with direct literary repercussions originally promoted by Gustavo Pérez Firmat. These are healthy moments of expansiveness in scholarly debates that appear less likely nowadays. Edmundo O’Gorman’s contestations of U.S. scholars are also important and terribly neglected moments stemming from the existentialist historicism of José Gaos, Leopoldo Zea, and Ortega y Gasset, who also contested the historicism of Toynbee, for example, whose civilizational template will resurface in an unlikely favorite name such as Samuel Huntington who did much to advance the modernizing agenda appertaining to Latin America. None of this is included by Adorno, who does not have to include everything meaningful in these handful pages. Yet, this is one rich line of historicism that has even found an outlet in early postcolonial studies (Mignolo, for example, name that will resurface soon). I am not aware that Adorno has had any interested in exploring this type of philosophy of history, or any other for that matter. In a way it feels that we have not moved forward, John Elliott recaptures the Hanke formulation in apparent ignorance of such existentialist philosophy of history, no gestures towards O’Gorman, and without warm feelings for postcolonial theory, which Adorno shares.

This is an interesting juxtaposition: the historical moment of modernization / development and dependency theories inside the social sciences finds the parallel track of the humanities. And here, one disposition is towards a Latin American exceptionalism against the “Yankee imperialism” (p. 380). In any case, it is still less common to find authors who pay tribute to the theoretical springs of Leon Trosky in relation to the uneven and combined development formulations in his history of the Soviet revolution! Our moment appears to want to de-emphasize specificities and exceptionalisms, hence the whole emphasis on networks and pan-relationalities. In defending the uniqueness and originality of fictional letters and the arts, Adorno includes the names of Picón Salas, Carpentier, “lo real maravilloso,” also in relation to the celebration of hybridity and mestizaje, and José María Caicedo in relation to the very naming of “Latin America (p. 379). I still think it is important to do diachronic interrogation of toponyms, the very name of “America” for example, originally a misnomer that has survived the erosion of time passing, still resisting mono-continentality in the Spanish language and shockingly bi-continentality in the standard English language and this mixing is not entirely by free choice. This is always certain to bring healthy awkwardness in the classroom: the diachronic explanation of the name of your country (United States of America)! Of course, maintaining bilingualism and awareness of different trajectories of intellectual life will deliver many possibilities. This is one: never to go gentle into the continental name appropriation by the proud nation. This type of inquisitive historicism makes the jingoism of the belief in the first, best and freest country in the history of the earth a bit more difficult. To give but one parallel: this self-appropriating is a bit in the same style as the stronger nations in Europe make themselves continental spokespersons for the benefit of a third party. Institutionally, Spanish –but also Hispanic, Latinity– is neither conventionally European nor conventionally American in this typically reduced sense. This is important in relation to the dividing line of the 1960s, the “boom” of Latin American letters gradually displacing the European quota of Spanish diversity amid conventional template of European languages, literatures and cultures in the North American academy. Who doubts that this is the early modernity of our postmodernity?

There should be no fears in coming to terms with the perception of an undeniable de-Europeanization of U.S. society inside which its still conventionally Eurocentric academic units operate. And there are all sorts of reasons for that (geopolitics, economic, social migration patterns, etc.). Logically, there is a reconsideration of the historical and social relationship between America and Europe inside the matrix of sameness and difference, and all other continents are implicated, if only by default. Against Octavio Paz who emphasized the sameness in a retrieval of a certain Europe peculiar to a post-revolutionary Mexican context, Adorno gives more space to the “prevailing and more polemical” of the difference, yet in back-and-forth traffic, mixings and interconnections, certainly accelerated tremendously since Paz. The emphasis is then on the difference among three big units (US within North America, South or Latin America, with overlap, and Europe). Always borrowing the telescope of his Cuban colleague at Yale, the focus is on the distinctiveness, specificity and individuality of Latin American literature “linked with the struggle for political and cultural independence” (Echevarría in the cited Cambridge History, p. 380). In a not entirely humorous aside, think of the branding strategies under late capitalism: you want your (scholarly) product to stick out from the rest still within a comparative frame or measuring rod. We can theorize an abstract (de-)differentiation mechanism, accordingly. There is a certain blurring but boundary-crossing is not really welcome with big fuss by most establishment figures, at least on the East Coast side of the most Western nation of the frame of the West, rubric typically appropriated by political leaders of big nations in moments of historical mindfulness. In what must have been a 1970s thing, like electric jazz, but also disco music, this game of grand differentialist signification apropos continental dimensions, say Latin American literature as such, is played out mostly on Cuban terms with another Roberto on the Castro side of politics: Fernández Retamar, the director of Casa de las Américas, also established in the 1960s. This is the historical moment of a certain type of synthesis, of nomothetic bind of no less than entire continental spaces of idiographic creativity. It is also the moment of the emergence of the Third World in between First and Second (Carl E. Pletsch’s famous article of 1981 is a commonplace here). In 1975, Fernández Retamar publishes his Para una teoría de la literature hispanoamericana y otras aproximaciones. Isn’t this a perfect parallel to González Echevarría’s Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (1990)?  What are the Calibanesque ruminations a kind of Hegelian variation of Master and Slave dynamics vis-à-vis the more geopolitically dominant entities of Europe and the U.S.? Adorno does not include references to Prospero, Ariel and Caliban, despite the citation that “we are all children of Castro” (p. 376), legitimate and illegitimate, in the sense of how big this geopolitical factor of one official enemy nation of collectivist leftist ideology has been, present perfect verb form, in the institutionalization of Latin American Studies in U.S. universities. The point is well taken: each generation should want to have at least one revolution to shake things up, professionally!

I will say it like this now: the professionally meaningful past, or history that matters, appears to have been one of more or less successful synthetic efforts of a differentialism of continental proportions, and one could see how and why this is perhaps more difficult to achieve sixty years later, or even desirable (think of the Jamesonian allegorization of worlds of difference and philosophical globalizations: how the Third World has to signify in this way as opposed to the First World signifying in quite another; or how the sansculottes in France are revolutionary force versus the repressive role in revolutionary Haiti, typologies for North and Latin American situations, etc.). I only see positions called “post-colonial” for lack of a better trying to mount global readings that could activate substantial destabilizations and I still think that this is vital for positions called “Hispanic / Spanish / Latin,” again for lack of a better word. But this is not Adorno’s game, at least in my acquaintance with her work for the last decade. In Wallerstenian language, this nomothetic impulse inside fields of idiographic modalities of knowledge production (the humanities) may feel today impossibly Gargantuan, perhaps foolhardy, at least of that continental-essentialist variety of the 1960s aforementioned, as though the human sciences were trailing their inferiority complex behind the social sciences and the natural sciences so to speak. But perhaps is also inevitable when “European” positions always already claim “international and global” histories! (and I know a thing or two about it since I am currently sitting in and witnessing from up close a working group of such rubric). What is the force of sameness that brings diversity of authors, geographies, styles, themes, etc. together? And a big jump: what is geopolitics is not the bringing together by the most powerful of such disparity at least at the official level? Think about the etymology of “fasces:” the binding together of a bundle of rods, the unification of forms. History (or the collection of old forms) follows the latest new forms of contemporaneity always already pressing interests, objectives, goals, etc. What is the perspective that seeks such massive identity of forms, if not one that is responding to a non-identity in indifference (Latin America is what is not (quite) Europe, what is not (quite) the US, etc.)? Primary focus on group behavior will have to complicate this allegorical-synthetic picture of big units, typically taught in hurried semester-long courses. Post-colonial post-modernisms appear to go in the direction of the debilitation of this type of all unifying “theory,” and towards the increasing interpenetration and fragmentation of timespaces and/or social groups in them with or without good reasons. And what about postmodern postcolonialisms?

Perhaps one can also contemplate the de-Hegelianization of humanistic endeavors in the new century side by side the previously mentioned de-Europeanization, always with an eye on Uncle Sam’s university houses of knowledge production. I remember reading Celestina’s Brood: Continuities of the Baroque in Spanish and Spanish American Literature (1993) by González Echevarría early in my graduate years at Duke and thinking that this type of scholarship would mostly, or perhaps only, be possible in the U.S. Who would dare cover five hundred years of assumed literary continuity on both sides of the Atlantic? And from what standpoint if not some kind of continuity that one can call your own national upbringing left behind somehow as in the Cuban case? But Eastern European émigrés were near founding the house called “comparative literature” also at Yale in a very ambitious initial impulse much more encompassing than any national-literature obviously (how else would a minor nationality address its assumed civilizational horizon in the American displacement?). Wellek for example, but also Jakobson’s formalism, not to be reduced to the “spiritual property of the Slavicists,” are generating a comparative literature stemming from the European experience, and this anti-exclusivist and non-possessive disposition appears supremely salutary, at least on the surface of it (pp. 327-331). And I must say it has little to do with comparative literature departments or programs I have run into on the West Coast of the proud nation. Incidentally, Adorno appears disinterested in this immediate history, she appears to have no warmth for comparativisms of a certain institutional kind. She fails to mention the 1992 anniversary of the Discovery / Conquest of America around which time she got the Yale appointment (I think I recall some comments by her favorite colleague about such moment and how difficult it was to find a convincing Mexicanist; Mexicanists are always difficult to find since they bring with them a proximity that “America” finds uncomfortable!, shouldn’t Spanish departments in all historical and social logic be 90% Mexican and Mexicanist against some European and Latin American legacies? Or is this one utopian projection of times to come, certainly more congruent with the immediate circumstance?, and I do not have “to be” Mexican to imagine this). These are troubled waters for everyone to get into, Adorno included, who does not want to get into.

There is an exhaustion of anniversary moments and historical celebrations of any type do not come easy for us anymore. González Echevarría recreates a panoramic vision of literary-criticism type based on Carpentier’s peculiar vision of literary history (Baroque and modernism put in the same mojito so to speak). Do you want to go with it if you are not from the same particular Caribbean background? Still, there should be no stinginess: how many would dare come up with comparable diachronic vision to such mono- or bi-continental distinctiveness while having a convincing acquaintance with European creativity? (Leila Zenderland gives us a parallel situation regarding the configuration of “American Studies” vis-à-vis European literature, pp. 273-313). I still feel Europe produces less identitarian soul-searching in humanities fields, except for some self-serving “minority-diversity” positions cutting thinner onion layers inside recognizable national-literature positions, but it appears the same logic of “culture difference” shaking hands with “racial profiling” for a foreignness or an otherness. But there is otherness and otherness. It is telling to witness how British scholars landing on this side of the Atlantic typically make a living adopting a big Europeanist perspective within an assumed Western template, and through they want to reach the sky of world history and global united nations (call them the postmodernist children of Toynbee). Our immediate times appear to be one of Balkanization of former Empires let us say, of break down of national “consensus,” a bad word in the first section of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, of ruins of “History,” thus in the singular and capitalized, and consequently of smithereens of these once desirable theoretical impulses not quite making yet towards sustainable synthesis. You will perhaps accept the following informality: our colleague’s account is sweet, so sweet it hurts your teeth kind of sweet, in ironic contrast with the strength of The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II which portrays a sobering account of the cohabitation of studies and politics and the brutal disorientation informing what appears to be the streamlining, if not “final solution,” of the profession of the humanities, apparently incapable of remonstrations of self-worth and significance in the new century. What will happen with “Hispanic Studies,” the modality officially represented by our esteemed colleague of the Baby-boom generation born, I think I remember correctly, in Iowa in the mid-West, remains to be seen.

The careful essay has the virtue of inclusion of quick references to encyclopedic precedents that allow for comparative reconstructions of larger vistas and situations. The names of Picón Salas and Henríquez Ureña are mentioned in relation to the set-up of histories of Latin American literature. Imbert’s Historia de la Literatura Hispanoamericana (1954) is considered the most significant endeavor before González Echevarría’s Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (1990) side by side the monumental Cambridge History. There is undeniable legacy here in relation to a certain historicism that clings to the noun “literature.” Baroque and colonial are adjectives that here find a place in the vicinity of Hispanic and Latin American dimensions. It is probably “the” place, at least in the U.S. Irving Leonard produces his Baroque book in 1959, which does not manage to raise the epistemic desirability of the Baroque, always already with a negative marker around it, so to speak, at least in the English-speaking world (English authors such as Greenaway and Jarman reach out to this Latin legacy for creative anachronisms of contemporary destabilization, Americans cannot do this sort of thing, still finding these horizons prohibitive and forbidding, not quite their own frame of intelligibility of historical things, but something “exotic”). Theorize that, if you will, in a way that it would have to be for us much less elegant that the HenryJamesian moment. But, the 1960s is also the moment of [literary] “theory,” Adorno reminds us, and by that one must assume a certain self-reflexivity in the business of humanistic interpretation. Inevitably, there is the Borges seduction among English-speaking audiences opening the door to the vigorous Boom visibility coming from the third world inside the frame of the cultural cold war. Half-humorously, we may now well be in the moment of bust of the cultural (post-)Cold War, for example, in the clear debilitation of the interpellation of “literature” in contemporary societies, in the “culturalization” of social relations, which Adorno does not wish to address in public. Our moment is more of a cat’s cradle of disparate and still disunited tendencies under the rubric of inter- or trans-disciplinarity, of hypothetical “post-Area-Studies,” that in some environments I have seen is code for juxtaposing academic units, making academic positions redundant and hiring cheap academic labor on a ad hoc basis addressing as they say “interesting issues,” say water scarcity and you will have one environmental science guy, one natural-science guy, one humanities guy and the plumber putting it together for two or three years and see how many customers go there. It is not a joke. As always, Adorno is polite diplomatic figure tireless in the promotion of the deserved status of contemporary Latin American literature in the English-speaking world, no easy sound bite is forthcoming about the specific field of “colonial.” After toasting with amiable college presidents and friendly administrators to the God Save the humanities, we all need to sober up (John T. McGreevy reminds us of the 12.7% of degrees in the humanities in 1993, as opposed to 20.7% in 1966, 20 years later, 4.7% by 2020, and how many fingers by 2040?; p. 207).

Hence, Adorno gives us the academic proof of the historical pudding at least in relation to some circles: historicity is triggered by contemporaneity, in case you had any doubts, and not the way around, so colonial dimensions emerge from 1980s’ so-called “culture wars,” Latin American visibility within the template of the Third World from the Cold War / Boom moment, etc. and foreignness is activated retroactively, retrospectively from the “nativist” concern and the 1960s timeframe at least in relation to the narrow eminent domain of academic professionalism. Such issue of “colonial” Adorno puts it in relation to the search for beginnings and origins “as far back as possible” (p. 385). O.k.: background of the “most important” moment of nation-formation and the continental dimension for “smaller” nations that cannot go solo. It sounds antiquarian and bland enough. No funny hairs will get tasseled at that. Implausibly, Adorno distinguishes cultural origins and colonial past, “not as history, but as fiction or as textuality per se.” Splitting hairs and I do not know what “per se” stands for. I am sure “per se” will fail to give a convincing answer as to why on earth to play it stand-alone.  Still, add salt and pepper to reach the 1970s-1980s, Adorno’s generation’s professional moment, and you are already within your lifetime: the birth of colonial studies so to speak. Ever faithful comrade in the González Echevarría’s Carpentier line of thought (p. 385), Adorno puts herself as founding mother of colonial Spanish American literature, citing her work on the indigenous Andean writer Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1535-1616), also propped up in the Cuban manner (p. 386). The word “indigenous” is not used often. And I wish to anticipate the subtle polemical thrust in “Havana and Macondo” which will be kept for the final pages, as a bit of a cliffhanger. By now it should be obvious that “Yale” is the glue in between both localities, Havana and Macondo, one real, but menacingly foreign and of awkward access for most Americans due to visa restrictions, the other fictionally real, in the manner of the magical-realism formula, forbiddingly foreign in the original Spanish language for most Americans. Make no mistake: validations do run through Ivy-League institutionality and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Still, other places and other names must be included. The 1990 Literature Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz has to be included. His work on Inés de la Cruz done while at Harvard, for example. And around it, there is a list of Sorjuanistas (p. 386). ). There is lavish praise of “one of the most internationally celebrated figures of feminine aspiration and accomplishment in the late twentieth century” (p. 387). I somehow doubt that she is equally on the same footing in the global pantheon of intellectual inspiration, more antiquarian representative of the heavy Baroque of Latinamericanist differentialism vis-à-vis European Baroque than figure from where philosophies of history of future projection may find nourishment. Paz’s liberal-ideology work itself made the comparison of the repressions of intellectual life in the colonial American Baroque and the repressions of the countries beyond the Iron Curtain. He left empty the desirable content other than the abstract celebration of individuality and creativity fighting such oppression within the Weberian template of modernization and development paradigm. I would argue that such template remains probably still largely functional, even if dented, for Adorno, with or without the indigenous dimension. But our colleague is not, I don’t think, someone to follow wholeheartedly debates considered to be of social-science province. I would polemically argue that the full-blown historicity of the Baroque on both sides of the Atlantic, is still waiting for a good interpreter after Roberto González Echevarría’s Celestina’s Brood, which is a certain kind of flexible Foucaultian genealogy of Cuban-American fidelity to modernist continuities playing the card of difference with Europe mostly. Perhaps it should be repeated that the horizon of the Baroque –Mannerism is never there– is still excessive cultural furniture, that which foreigners do, in conventional U.S. culture, also in literature and culture circles, but increasingly less so. Who dares teach such diachronic aesthetic-political dimensions, consistently in the vicinity of the second national language? For some thoughts of mine, see my collaboration with John Beverley, who I feel should have been more of a presence in this article (“Are Golden Age Studies Obsolete? A Conversation with Fernando Gomez Herrero,” in John Beverley, Essays on the Literary Baroque in Spain and Spanish America (Woodbridge UK: Tamesis, 2008; pp. 149-185; and “About the Subaltern and Other Things: A Conversation with John Beverley,” Dispositio/n: American Journal of Cultural Histories and Theories 52 (vol. XXV, 2005):  pp. 343-372).

What the shorthand of “theory” stands for is also most concretely the moment of philosophical post-structuralism going “alongside literary studies” (p. 388), and the adverbial clause speaks volumes of Adorno’s reticence to fully embrace some of these findings. “Theory” is shorthand for approaches such as deconstruction, (post-)feminism, gender and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, subaltern studies, and postcolonial studies. Hence, there is proliferation of modalities of interpretation moving away from the vanishing literary center if ever so discreetly. There is, however, less amorous detail in the listing of names and issues. The synthesis of “theory” here is also rejection, perhaps momentary, of all universalizing centers, and the welcoming of marginal expressions, which when you pause and think about it is the official liberal ideal of unimpeded self-expressivity. You can feel Adorno holding her own literary turf in the colonial-studies unit amid the remonstrances and disorders caused by such proliferation. I happen to think that the most interesting line of investigation is precisely the fracture of conventional understanding of the very sign of “literature” in early modern / colonial studies highlighted by postcolonial studies. The issue is now how to follow through, intellectually vis-à-vis institutionalizations emerging from such historical horizons and how to do things intellectually, pedagogically, etc. Two options: bring the sign “literature” closer to literacy, and even post-literacy, and also to the conventional social-science uses of the sign and run with it, epistemologically speaking. Historicize and socialize better the work of Rama, may be one formula, and this is easier said than done.

By contrast, Adorno’s position remains to this day an antiquarian neo-positivist kind of historicism operative within a certain controlled environment, without ever venturing into comparative philosophies of history and without ever jumping into such thorny issues, some of them already included (coloniality, avatars of university knowledge in the home of the brave under late-capitalist conditions, the smithereens of “literature” and the humanities with it in a global society that is constitutionally anti-textualist and anti-humanities, sustainable bilingualism, etc.). Virtuality and digitality do violence to timespaces and knowledge production cannot stay put inside conventional institutionality, call it by the old-fashioned name of university or not, particularly in a society for which book culture is not natural any more, if it ever was. But this is hot water that will get all cats wet. So I suppose that it is wise to want to stay in the dry cleaner and keep some (theoretical) distance from it, if you can afford it. My generation cannot afford the hot water and the dry cleaner and wants no distance from it.

The fallback or default position is, I suppose, the literary delineation of Latin American fictional letters normalized by her powerful colleague so often cited. Her position is also neo-Wellekian (pp. 327-331) wanting a “return to earlier but still (or again) incandescent questions such as the transcendence of literary value.” Earlier, still and again: adverbial cat’s cradle suggesting permanent abode, for her defense of transcendental literary value, always in the immediacy of colonial studies. She claims that: this “return” is another of the ironies (or successes) of the Latin Americanist humanities in the cold war era” (p. 392), and she puts it against the background of debates between Anderson Imbert and Henríquez Ureña, the good Minnesota moment of ideological inquiry, David Viñas on the marketing of Boom literature, Beatriz Sarlo and Alberto Moreiras, although these names are largely left undeveloped with barely one simple sentence. The fundamental game is always played in Yale quarters and here Adorno plays home court advantage but to the rest of the American world. There is the compare and contrast between González Echevarría and Josefina Ludmer (p. 387), the former representing literary and aesthetic values, and the second, a more sociological orientation. Adorno’s polite United- Nations mediation advocates the complementarity of both positions and her own: “To see literature as a system rather than a series of organic, but separate works; [and] to do so without losing sight of the literary and philosophical values of the text’s specificity, insisting always on close textual analysis; and to articulate literary discourse with those that presumably lie outside it but in fact permeate its core (p. 387): it feels more reconstructed structuralism to me. I am not been facetious: the undying light of the literary text to see what exactly? Lovely attention to textual detail inside the system of specificities to build what?  Transcendental humanities passing through market and ideology to achieve what success understood in what way? I can only see the horizon of “cultural difference” here without drastically altering inherited templates (I am not aware that Adorno has tinkered with the post-occidentalism of old authors such as Leopoldo Zea, one venerable example among others). Incongruously clinging to the solid “literature” of Wallerstein, I find that Adorno is saying the least damning thing one can possibly say about this phenomenally disruptive American intellectual: the “unintended consequences of area studies” (p. 387). Is this an ideological wink on the part of Adorno to her good readers? A kind of in-the-joke-you-get-me kind of thing? Of course, literary scholars do not have to promote directly and vocally immediate U.S. state interests and their professional persona, I am sure, will be allowed to play a variety of roles. But to the point of generating (intellectual, political) uncertainties, troubles, sustained dissidence, not to mention instigating the possibility of a blowback? I honestly think this defense of literature is epistemologically gone and it was gone a long time ago. Sociologically, you only have to take a good walk in the American streets and the classrooms. Pick your favorite city. The field of cultural studies, also “unintended consequence of cold war area studies,” has been an attempt to take over and try to revive an immensely debilitated field of humanistic inquiry, not without problems of its own. The whole “unintended consequences and ironies” is one way of diffusing intentionality and intellectual agency, but Adorno will never get caught in public addressing the issue of the social function of the intellectual class as such and, yes, per se. More’s “1964 lament” (pp. 387-8) is included. Adorno volunteers none.

I should not forget that there is mention of U.S. Latino that includes a telling parenthesis “(Including Spanish-Language)” (p. 388).  Check this out: “for the first time the Spanish language became a proud symbol of ethnic identity vis-à-vis mainstream Anglo-American society (p. 388). The endnote includes two articles by Ofelia García (endnote 112, p. 402). Work in progress: happy to blow the ashes in the fireplace in the home of Uncle Sam, also with my good friend Guadalupe Valdés, mentioned in the article. The 1970s see the (partial) demise of the “national interest” in the justification for funding area studies (p. 389). And this “benign neglect” (the phrase originally associated with the New York Senator Moynihan, fair to see this old liberalism being also Adorno’s?) turns into a transfer of funds and the birth of ethnic studies finding their most natural place in American studies programs. Isn’t the Latino projection ambivalent sign of the big divide with Hispanic studies as presently constituted? Where is the Mexican dimension, side by side the Cuban and Puertorrican majority groups, inside the inherited Eurocentric legacy of US universities? Interesting issues do come up if the aforementioned de-Europeanization picks up momentum in the following decades. Are “we” going for a bifurcation, the international-and-global axis through the Asian route and the domestic Latin explosion? But science-fiction projections exceed the immediate goal of these pages.

I wish to conclude with the discreet mention of the 1990s debate on “colonial discourse,” surprisingly relegated to a miserable endnote (endnote 129, p. 390) with the names of Hernán Vidal, Patricia Seed, Adorno herself and Walter Mignolo. She does not synthesize her vision around discursivity and colonialism. But later in the essay, she elbows out Mignolo, probably the most noted representative of “postcolonial studies” certainly in the intersection with Latin American studies, placing him around and about the issue of identity politics (endnotes 124 and 129). This is certainly surprising, to say the least. Using one article by Ricardo Kaliman (listed as “Richard,” endnote 132, p. 404), she appears to join the critique that Mignolo’s work is not “being led by the problems of Latin American cultural reality.” A second surprise: do you want to play this game between these two Argentinians on both sides of the Americas? I will have my disagreements with my dear mentor Mignolo, but I would willingly side with him any day about the assumption of the hijacked identity of the subject of study and the object of study irrespective of multi-directionality of intervention possibilities in a variety of fields of knowledge production. Adorno scratches a bit the wall paint of the Mignolo edifice in the same landscape of colonial studies, if with a postcolonial-studies inflection in the case of the latter, by using the knife of Kaliman. The former is inside the US academy the last time I checked. The latter was trained at Pittsburgh, but makes a living in Argentina. Where does the intelligent reader think Adorno will sit? I can see certain solidarities in the American academy with positions labeled “identity-politics,” but Mignolo’s work cannot possibly be reduced to that. Most importantly, what is she doing exactly? You got it: she gets closer to González Echevarría, made antecedent in relation to mechanisms of destruction and the rewriting of the frames of historical processes that inspired her 1986 counter-offensive of decolonization. It is not really an issue of who did what first since the scholarly doing among such individuals is quite different. It is certainly an issue of addressing what “decolonization” stands for today, which is far from clear. I am not being facetious: Decolonization of what? Of the indigenous dimension? Indigenous, or native, in relation to what frame of referentiality in relation to what matrix of meaningfulness? But, surely all these previous nouns must be in the radical plural form. The Harvard computer system will allow you to “connect to the native interface,” if you use the proper codes. It sounds Virilian enough and it is as real as rain, and I love Mignolo according to my bond no more no less. As already mentioned, the word “indigenous” does not come up often in “Havana and Macondo.” There is no Guatemala or Bolivia so to speak. There is no Cusco either. And it is far from clear what that such intellectual and/or academic operation would entail for the duration in relation to cultures of scholarship inside bureaucratic-institutional settings of the corporate University system embedded inside increasingly global capitalism, currently in a process of critical re-adjusting and reconfiguration, in direct relation to the possible national interests that the sole standing superpower may be having by the time I finish writing these pages.

I cannot resist the temptation to write a passing reference to the issue of identity politics, a symptom of the bigger issue of social typologies, and also of the crudity of racial profiling in the current post 9/11 climate. Another big divide: US nationals and foreign nationals in relation to making a living in the profession of the humanities in the vicinity of Spanish-language studies and Latin American cultural (area) studies (peninsular or Iberian studies is a fellow traveler with receding presence in some places already phased out). Yet another divide, the native, near-native competence of language learning inside the uncontested hierarchy of English over Spanish. Yet another, the big divide between the teacup-storm of humanities professionals and the mass society of Hispanic / Latino populations in the U.S. typically of Cuban, Puertorrican and Mexican backgrounds and origins, and of Spanish-language heritage and questionable bilingual projection (I am wondering how genuinely the still dominant assimilation model is tested in the new century as opposed to the generations passing through Ellis Island). One can allegorize a variety of national-label positions and see who gets allocated in what institutional place doing what kind of university work. Imagine some disorder (how many Mexicans do you see professionally recognized doing literature other than Mexican, how many Guatemalans doing literature other than Central American, etc.?; change the subject matter and quantify the subjects of knowledge production; isn’t it true that foreign nationals typically play a representational role of situated “minority / diversity” fields with precious little deviations and divergences?; etc.); how many Latin Americans officially doing comparative literature?; how many Spanish-last-names and of Latin American provenance enjoy permanent seat in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences?; how to come to terms with the future projection of the current underrepresentation of the Mexican dimension, also inside academic professionalism?, etc., and add to this mix the typical petty-bourgeois configuration of education sectors, overwhelmingly so in the humanities, typically positions not wanted by the “natives,” and who can blame them?). Adorno is aware of these issues of course. In “Havana and Macondo,” she is not directly concerned with the larger social and demographic implications of such identity-politics combination games of subjects and objects of knowledge production inside and outside the “knowledge factory” (the label reaches me from Stanley Aronowitz). Ever so discreetly, Adorno plays it safe by pitting the criticism of someone who does not make a living in the American academy against somebody else directly invested in (post-)colonial studies, who makes a living in the American academy and ends up choosing the influential colleague across the aisle in the same institution for the origen of colonial things. There is a trivializing of the contributions of postcolonial studies and cultural studies in the intersections with Latin American cultural (area) studies. Seriously, who would like to stay put inside assigned boxes? Isn’t the whole messy and complicated game to try to disrupt inherited configurations that have put you in such circumscribed designations of docile subordination.

 

 

 

Finally, this is a bit of humor in relation to the “Spic and Span” in the home of the brave (for the benefit of the mostly Spanish-speaking reader of this foreign-language review article, “Spic and Span” is a cleaning product, there is also the derogatory term of “Spic” for Hispanic, and “Span” can be short and sweet for Spanish). There is a famous article by Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (New York Times Magazine, June 8, 1970), poking fun at the careful choice of servants of a certain color and extraction for a relaxed gathering in a big city. Wolfe is not my political or aesthetic friend, but the cutting irony of his early journalism is worth rescuing also for our own messy times in cities and colleges around the big country: the hosts are known as the “Spic and Span Employment Agency with an easygoing ethnic humor, of course.” Wouldn’t a bit of restlessness, even revolt, be thoroughly appropriate here in relation to the conventional assignations of labels, including your table of conventional fields of study? Where do you see yourself socially in what type of social gathering compared with the 1970s precedent, which is the beginning of history of academic endeavors for “Spanish and Portuguese” sections? If Adorno does not get into these hot issues, it is vital “we” do. Some dialogue has already taken place (check out Diálogo Crítico. Foreign Sensibilities (II). “On Avatars of Historical Scholarship of the Colonial Americas in the Home of the Brave: An Interview with Rolena Adorno,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 39 (2005): pp. 181-203). A big interview with Rolena Adorno should come out soon. In the meantime, this article review has played game of mirrors with “Havana and Macondo,” being both of us in neither location, against the space opened by The Humanities and The Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II, which is insufficient. In the end, I can almost see that you may think that the mistake has been so far to assume that the academic space could have been an intellectual space of radical interrogation of the here-and-now. My question to you is then, and do you have a book of corrections of such mistakes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any questions, or comments? Get in touch, fgh2173@gmail.com

On Stephen Greenblatt’s Historicism: Double-Take.

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

 

Initial Quotes:

“My only object was pleasure” (p. 2)

“[T]o look squarely and calmly at the true nature of things… [I]n Lucretius’ account… It is knowing the way things are that awakens the deepest wonder” (p. 199)

“Something happened in the Renaissance” (p. 9)

“Why should atoms in the High Renaissance have come to be seen, in some quarters at least, so threatening?… Atoms, the ultimate substrate of all that exists, with a host of other, dangerous claims… [T]he implications  –for morality, politics, ethics, and theology—were deeply upsetting… Atomism… an intellectual weapon of mass destruction” (pp. 251-2, 253)

“Poggio, the cynical papal secretary in the service of the famously corrupt pope, was viewed by his friends as a culture hero, a magical healer who reassembled and reanimated the torn and mangled body of antiquity” (p. 181)

“It is rather the experience of withdrawing inwardly from the press of the world –in which he himself was so ambitiously engaged –and ensphering (sic) himself in a space apart. For Poggio, that experience was what it meant to immerse himself in an ancient book: “I am free for reading” (p. 155)

“And the court is also the best place to study the humanities” (p. 139)

Introduction.

Speak of the bad weather in the present here and now instead of the marvelous sunshine and exotic creativity out there in some distant past, is still a good maxim to adopt. This writing complies with the maxim, even if it deals with historical dimension, even if it appears to do otherwise at first glance. I will tell where I am coming from, so that a bigger, better vision of the territory of things that still matter opens up negatively or in utopian fashion. The initial quotes highlight main issues: the study of the humanities, particularly of the historical focus, and of the business-model (dis-)investment in the signs “literature” and “culture,” in a more general and presumably post-imperial decline of the proud nation. And there are other themes: the “classicism” or visible or official referentiality, and the “mannerism” of virtual invisibility of other, (im-)possible referentialities; individualization of social landscapes or atomization; pleasure and how very small units may be having a good time, or not at all; the depoliticization of textual reconstructions of social dynamics in the past and the present; the theoretical celebration of “paganism” and atheism, “minority” belief systems let us call them, by the installation of orthodoxies and normalities, often naturalized and largely unconscious, also against the conflictive legacy of the three great monotheistic religions.

Is there anything funny with the generic good formula of aesthetic toleration? Should one take it as a very good thing in and of itself? But isn’t the social articulated with doors open and closed, acceptances and repudiations? What to make of the “liberal” attitude of theoretical all-acceptance? Are there any blind spots in seeking to elicit awe and marvel from an audience in relation to the sunshine of “literature-and-culture”? Are there any bad clouds here? Are there any deformations in the alleged beauty of the legacy of classicism, particularly in relation to a society, ours, built upon brutal discontinuities? But, how does an exotic, foreign dimension relate to the alleged native standpoint, the rubric of the “Renaissance” vis-a-vis American national identity in the dance of other national formations in the second decade of the twenty-first century? I am not concerned with how “things as they really are,” and the phrase will recur more than once in the following pages. This is instead about having a good time in the field of studies of the Renaissance and / or Early Modern studies and I take to heart Stephen Greenblatt’s latest The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (New York: Norton & Company, 2011, abbreviated as Swerve from now on) as symptomatic, eminently provisional type of historicism of “remaining bones, broken… pieces and… ashes… tiny particles that would … reenter the great, joyous, eternal circulation of [scattered] matter” (p. 241). This is about tinkering with this American historicism and nuancing the portion of joy. For Greenblatt, the nature of the relationship between his immediate national circumstance and the historical horizon of another continent, at least in his dealings, is not problematic. I will claim the opposite. And my interest is accordingly mostly to problematize such Americanization of the horizon of the Renaissance leaving the immediate national circumstance mostly empty. But the foreignness presented by Swerve has a smooth, docile quality. It is fundamentally reassuring and “conservative” in the end, eager to land in our lap with reassurances of how well we are going about in “our modernity.” This “thriller” conveys no strong feeling of permanent strangeness in foreign world exploration. Instead, I want to bring about some defamiliarization.

You must have seen the embarrassing praise before and after winning the National Book award in various journalistic formats. Maybe you went to the presentation at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard with lots of incense being thrown around, but at what exactly? At Lucretius?  At Epicurus? At Poggio Bracciolini? At the suave representative in the section called “English” at the influential university? At the partnership between the Indian Company big on Jeeps and Tractors and Harvard humanities under the leadership of the current director Homi Bhabha? I here engage critically with what I wish to consider symptomatic manufacture of a certain universalim –American-perspective, human-story, natural-science, etc.—which could easily square with horizons of meaningfulness provided by Walter Lippman (1889-1974) in the context of US foreign policy, and the positivistic historiography of Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), particularly his famous work on the Renaissance, to name “old” authors (I will later make references to direct borrowings by Greenblatt in the philological field). These influences are turned into some middlebrow, portable cultural product, or even Hollywoodesque “thriller” fashion, with an eye on capturing lay readers and good standing in best-seller lists, at least in the English-speaking world. Remember the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco? This can be a smaller sister in the same family: “mixed” historical scholarship with a Renaissance core, which wants to “pass,” in the various senses of the word, as something manageable and unintimidating, indeed inviting and attractive, more on the non-academic side than scrupulously academic, even if it is coming from someone with scrupulously academic credentials. Yet, I will be defending a deliberately evanescent self-presentation, a discreet self-fashioning, if you wish, and the latter term is Greenblatt’s vintage. In the middle of what I take to be a popularizing strategy, even a dumbing down, this semi-foreign David is still feeling confident aiming the slingshot at the best choice of native Goliath in the vicinity against the dramatis personae of the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, the old Roman Latin poet Lucretius, the Florentine scribe Poggio Bracciolini, and last but not least the very proper Bostonian Harvard Professor of English literature, Stephen Greenblatt.

If you care about the visibility of historical dimensions in our contemporaneity, say 16th and 17th centuries, and the conditional is not clear in 21st United States of America by any stretch of the imagination, even among professional academics, you might want to continue reading and follow some of these provocations going the other way of incensed predictabilities operating within typical frames of a narrow European frame, call it high-culture or boutique Europe, a certain Europe of the original Euro with no identity crisis, as it gets to be consumed at least in some places in the US. No surprises here: the Spanish-language dimension, in either Europe or the Americas, in the “narrow” horizon of the Renaissance, mind you, in the original moment of historical Iberian imperialism, is collateral damage in the targeted text, clearly in a bibliography that is sprinkled with a little bit of Italian, a little bit of French and a little bit of German against the “classical” legacy of Greek and Latin landing in the overwhelming normality of the dominant English language (the American scholar sends the English colleague to explore the glimpses of Lucretius in post-Tridentine Spain, endnote included on p. 306 referring to page 250; it should be said that these endnotes have no markers in the main body of the text, making it very reader-friendly and the editorial decision must have not been originally Greenblatt’s, surely). “Even in Spain!” (p. 249): this appalling marginality is a glimpse of your normality and Latin America is not even the shadow of itself: call it linguistically splitting hairs between English-only and English-mostly against that foreign-language chorus line. Swerve is a smooth potboiler manufacturing of consent of English-language supremacy also in cultures of scholarship, which are stooping to, popularized and “brought down,” to try to conquer the bestseller status, yet mostly in the original US context, but from this platform expect significant international takeoffs, less likely in Europe, I am guessing, and I may be wrong. I remember the great Stanley Fish in the Duke University classrooms in the mid-1990s, among the best professors I have ever experienced, and one of his one-liners: “aim low!,” always with a tongue-in-cheek self-referentiality hitting the academic-professional face with the pie of humor. This is one central point of interest: why and how Swerve aims low when the noted author can aim much higher. Speculative reasons, not entirely unsympathetic, will be included at the end of this critical review.

But first the personal historical narrative: Once upon a time in the West, say two decades ago, I entered the university system… Having gone to the public university system in the philological humanities in peripheral Europe has a few epistemological privileges in hindsight, particularly in relation to the winner-take-all attitude of the business culture in the immediate circumstance. Some privileges: 1) it was a cheap education in the monetary sense of the term, and better than the one offered in the most expensive places on this side of the Atlantic, and my personal experience will claim few exceptions; 2) lots of freedom not to attend classes not worth attending, and ample time to read instead what you thought was worth reading at that time; 3) the option to socialize, mingle and comingle with no drinking-age restrictions in campuses that were in the middle of provincial cities that felt new to you at that time. There was no sense of a big divide: institutionality was not the be-all and end-all of your life. It proved statist faulty towers, catching up to the times with glacial speed, and yet its faultiness was never glossed over in the name of customer and consumer values. Unthinkable in relation to the US of 2011: there were grades and big portions of your class members failed courses that they had to retake the following year; you had your moments of grade modesty as well, and somehow debates and conversations, when they happened, and they did happen, had few perceived boundaries, including the good name of the immediate institution of higher learning in question included of some reputation in the field of philology (I cannot speak for other fields). There was a healthy irreverence for this or that brand name and this or that franchise, that I still think it is worth preserving at all costs: at least such attitude keeps language alive, which is more than I can say about what was to follow in the next years for the most part. It was not a good setting at all, and yet I want somehow to keep the memory of this deficiency alive, which I left behind mind you, if only to come up with more determination, intellectually speaking, against the weaker intellectual product called Swerve. Imagine the luck in leaving behind the benign neglect of one stepmother, public state university in the philological humanities in peripheral Europe, only to run into the benign neglect of another stepmother, privatized or corporate university in the foreign literatures, cultures and languages on the other side of the Atlantic. I suppose that what I am trying to say is that you must imagine a socialization around the knowledge production in the humanities cutting across a variety of social sectors not always already isolated and privatized, not yet thoroughly corporate and never quite impossibly docile and abjectly subservient. I suppose exile and migration accentuate the feelings of institutional narrowness of mental horizons, at least in relation to professional or academic humanities, if you have to make your living in a society that is not yours by birth. I was one of the few in my generation who picked the Latin option in high school and kept it alive in the so-called common years of the philology degree not really thinking of a professional-development option. This was English as naturally as French was my parents’ choice of a modern foreign language and the cut happened in Spain in the 1960s and 1980s. Latin was abandoned when specialization into English kicked in in the last two years of a standard five-year humanities degree. And I took it elsewhere.

In retrospect, this life of mine, all in the name of humanistic knowledge production, feels incredibly picaresque. Call it the delights of itinerancy in the always precarious “humanities,” a funny name, mind you, that the natives of these lands, New England included, find impossibly old, typically not in a cute kind of way (liberal arts and cultural studies are newer names to basically the same product). So, it was the humble beginnings in the historical place of Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546) not too far away from where Lazarillo de Tormes had his first go, presumably, at a fictional life in the vicinity of the good, old-fashioned philological studies. And then I had the good fortune of travels in the years of Margaret Thatcher poll tax protests, to the Wales portion of Great Britain for a through immersion in English literature thanks to the so-called Erasmus exchange program, which I think still exists. I went to the University of Wales, Swansea. And from there, I followed the American route via tobacco country, Wake Forest University first, and second to reach the still prestigious North Carolinian institution of great basketball fame in the vicinity of the name of Mike Krzyzewski, not a Renaissance aficionado to my knowledge. Call it Duke University. Little did I know of either English-speaking place upon arrival: fellowship options put me there. And there I remained in a sense somehow.

I still think Duke University was one of the best places I have ever experienced. I have found nothing comparable ever since. I got exposed to, yes, darker versions of the Renaissance, to the battles of postcolonial studies and to cultural studies in the vicinity of Fredric Jameson’s comparative literature, not department but program, and this nomenclature is not entirely metaphysical. In pages dealing with Greenblattian predilection for Lucretius’s materialism, I have learned ample institutional metaphysics since. And of course I saw first hand the conditioning of “Spanish” in the home of the brave. I have run into other lesser creatures, programs and departments, ever since, Stanford for example. My perception remains that the Atlantic divides more than unites, and that the United States remains something of an “island,” as Walter Lippman would put it, and a proud one, more often than not, of relative consequence at least in fields of the humanities elsewhere. In other words, I still find more misrecognition between both continents than peaceful ecumene, pagan or otherwise. And here the very name of “America” sits funny: the US portion, typically conveyed in imprecise boundaries of geography and temporality, arrogates for itself the name of the big entity of the West, rarely with other voices within such entity, not to mention those critical of it or outside of it. Yet, walk the walk at the street level to see if Americans can identify it, vis-à-vis the Western Hemisphere and the mono- and bi-continentality of “America,” a historical misnomer becoming the name of the proud nation centuries later and today the demotic manner of speech (Lippman’s horizon by 1943 speaks of the US as “American continental homeland,” while also being “an island,” and Carl Schmitt on the other side of the war defeat did not hesitate to turn this geographical imprecision into unmistakable sign of imperialism). Some of this “disrespect” is naturally at work, believe it or not, in this camouflaged type of scholarship I have chosen here, a humanities scholarship that wants to pass as dazzling and entertaining mystery thriller, if only in relation to the ease with which our smooth-operator author gives himself to travel among locations, chronologies and cultures of scholarship. There is a foreignness in the scope of vision of Swerve. And yet it is somehow smoothly brought down and brought home, some foreignness if more foreign than others obviously, while home is kept at some distance, never institutionality. In other words, there is something of an extroversion of the preoccupation with the recreation of historical dimensions and issues, but mainly, or perhaps only, to land and not disruptively, not in a revolutionary manner, with Greenblatt’s modernity. There is no quarrel between antiquity and modernity here: there is the tease of one figment of antiquity, its blow up, to encompass some factual level of “things as they are.” Swerve is quick-touch, thick-brush history of ideas, we move mostly at the level of ideation, sometimes fictionalized, in relation to individual characters, without sustained social clashes, no thick textures, no detailed descriptions of the presumed dangers in relation to the immediate American circumstance.

Yet, the relationship between the legacy of the European Renaissance and the challenges to America’s national identity –think Samuel Huntington’s infamous latest book —is far from obvious, starting with the breakdown into North America and South America vis-à-vis Western Hemisphere and the civilization typically called the West. Swerve circumscribes the Renaissance,  or even minimizes it, to make it fit into an European phenomenon (Marvelous Possessions was about European expansionism, in this context it is no charge to speak of Eurocentrism, it is the how our suave author goes about it that it is the matter). There are no great-Renaissance visions, no undersides, no darker sides of colonization, no black clouds cutting across the sunshine of beautiful poetry, aesthetic creativity and sophistication, and yes the dawn of the global modern world, no boundaries here either. “Who we are” goes back in time then to the European kernel of Renaissance letters, retroactively activating Latin and Greek legacies of a certain, aesthetically pleasurable kind, of a certain favored heretical content, Epicurus and Lucretius, at least in relation to the abstraction of religious belief, persona non grata according to our dignified interpreter, who wishes to seek some proximity with the certainties of natural-science (there is something of a discreet or sotto voce John Searlean insinuation of reality and facts and things as they are, to which the Greenblattian version of the humanities are only to happy to provide escort service, amiably). The “publicist” James Brown Scott (1866-1943) did something similar in relation to the glory of the moment of the Renaissance highlighting the figure of  Francisco de Vitoria inside fields of international law in the interests of pan-Americanism and an increasingly more assertive US foreign policy. Stephen Greenblatt (1943- ) does something not that dissimilar also in the well-trodden terrain of the Renaissance –think of a close-up of the grand vistas provided by Burckhardt–  in relation not to law, what Lalinde Abadía called the “repressive culture,” but in relation to the supposedly more benign rubric of “aesthetic toleration,” in coincidence, mind you, and one that is taken for granted, with natural-science construction of a reality  beyond doubts, or “things as they are.” So the humanities are fuzzy, murky terrain that finds its clarity after all, their modernity after the preamble of the renaissance. Swerve is happy, cumulative story-telling of the march of the history of this modernity of scientific ideas. Consequently, the humanities are brought down, in all modesty, to the level of keeping company to such certainties. The chose format here: the middlebrow level of the bestseller condition with no bigger claims than serving at the pleasure of lay (non-academic, non-specialist, popular, mass) readership. Highlight the populist strategy of “aiming low” in relation to a non-populist author who does not make a living in direct relation to American-style popular culture.

In my experience, the legacy of the Renaissance is closer to home to Europeans and Latin Americans, through a glass darkly if you will, whether schooled or not, than Americans, and you may enjoy that I am keeping the demotic language still functional: there will be city landscapes and buildings, songs and folklore references reminding them of that past, that they will call their own, most Americans on the other hand have no similar recourse, no commemorative statue of Vitoria within one block from your student apartment say, unless they make their way to museum holdings in the handful big cities of the proud nation. Try it yourself: ask around to get some samplings of the favorite 16th century anything (surprisingly, the connectivity between “Latin” –the old, dead language—and the piece of land typically called “America” in times of the Renaissance and the Spanish-speaking communities, called “Latin/o” or “Hispanic,” is not automatic for most conventional Americans, for whom Renaissance and Mexico, much less New Spain, are two different planets, one is high-culture or boutique “white” Europe of French-Italian, “Latin” flavor, with a little touch of Spain, but not too much, whereas the other is the “recent” “non-white” immigration moving into low-paying jobs and on the verge of becoming a long-term underclass, see “In New York, Mexicans Lag in Education,” by Kirk Semple, New York Times, Nov. 24, 2011). You will see in concluding pages why I am bringing this foreign dimension to the discussion of the Renaissance in Swerve. I am exaggerating a bit, but only a bit, to prove the general point of the disrelationship that also holds true for Swerve, scholarship that seeks the appropriation of the relative exotic achievement of the Italian Renaissance for our global, late capitalist postmodernity. We will see in what way.

I am not yet done with travels, and troubles. Itinerancy has its delights. One is tied up with healthy moments of convincing epistemic comparativism. Another, with consequent decentering dispositions that emerge from multi-perspectivism. It is safe to say that Swerve is mono-perspectival. I still think there are valuable lessons to be learned coming from the good old days of a dying philology around the historical interrogation of the form of the letter (the Spanish term “letrado” is a perfect synthesis that is not immediately obvious to proud English monoliguals). Poggio Bracciolini is a letrado, a scribe, a petty bureaucrat, and Greenblatt who would probably not want to be called those things in public, and many others with him, while he makes a big deal of his adventures in manuscript hunting due to moments of precarious life and unemployment. There is perhaps too much fabulation around these adventures, which a sharp social-class reading would have drastically de-romanticized, the work of Gil Fernández is all about the laborious reconstruction of the letrado social group inside which humanism is but one strand. In the Salamanca context, one could be naturally exposed to the work of proud philologists such as  Francisco Rico. If interested, you may go to the book on Petrach, since the name emerges in a few pages in Swerve. You can do the comparativism for yourself and see what type of work is more intellectually satisfactory. And go visit also the thickly textured landscapes opened up by Gil Fernandez, a European classicist, to name but a second foreign name, with historical densities circumscribed by national-formation interests, his own, and without no grand claims to any one modernity in particular. This type of work, I think it is safe to say, is near to impossible to produce inside the US academia, or even teach. At Duke University, I was fortunate to be at a moment of tremendous creativity in the humanities and institutional experimentation. One felt one could “naturally” be exposed to the works of Enrique Dussel and Walter Mignolo, no North-Carolinians mind you, Stanley Fish and also Fredric Jameson, another phenomenal classroom “performer” in his own right, and many others around him. This is a strong moment of “cultural studies” that will put into question many things around issues of “literature” and “culture,” convincingly so. There is a richness in such moment that cannot be reduced to historico-social approaches to relationality of humanities-knowledge production, but this is a good start. I felt then that the debilitated philology I had encountered at Salamanca, less so the historical and cultural criticism at the University of Wales, Swansea, was toast, and I was glad to attend the burial, or in Spanish, el entierro de la sardina. Still, I insist, that does not mean that some lessons cannot be learned about how to go about contextualized diachronicity of textual production in relation to multiplicity of languages, particularly vis-à-vis the dominant English language.

Obviously, old philology had little of the richness of the philosophies of history and historiographic modalities, for example included in Jameson’s Ideologies of Theory, and little of a more belligerent attitude apropos English language and literature and American appropriations that I had encountered at The University of Wales, Swansea (I still remember fondly one great course of American poetry taught by a superb faculty with a thick Welsh accent, generating healthy estrangements operative in various directions, this is the freedom of analysis that I wish to treasure). It was at Duke when I first read Greenblatt’s variety of historicism, or neo-historicism, a cultural-relativist, anti-synthetic and anti-Hegelian, supple, elastic, hypothetical  variety update of nineteenth century positivistic varieties. I liked it at that time. It felt impressionistic and particularistic but there were reasons for such particularism and impressionism in the apparent collapse of grand narratives a la Lyotard. It felt one option to keep historicist preoccupations alive when there was retreat from historicist positions in fields of “literature” and “culture.” I would defend however now, a decade later, that this historicism appears infinitely poorer and more restricted, also restrictive variety than others, and perhaps because of this, it is not surprisingly more postmodernistically adept, even politically correct, if I may put it this way, and a pragmatism disrupting precious little that can perhaps be tolerated in our own times and circumstance. I write this statement years after the exchange Greenblatt had with Jameson, to whom I feel closer, if only for this massively encompassing and synthetic Marxian Hegelianism. Intellectually I have no doubts where the most satisfying “player” is, even if the latter gets trouble in the identity of the modality of the national allegory of the novelistic genre speaking the truth of postcoloniality against some postmodern normality of the “West.” At Duke, the game was played between postmodernists and postcolonialists and I was caught at times in the middle. I still feel I am caught in it having left the Salamanca and Swansea years behind, and yet the English / Spanish interplay continued on the American side of the Atlantic with two new dimension, US and Latin America (the US dimension often typically hides itself behind a certain “Europe,” which then gets universalized, and the blind spot of such West projection is typically the Latin America that is Spanish, Latin, West and part of the Western hemisphere, European, but not exclusively, and it is from the richness of this legacy that the desirability of superseding the West, or post-Occidentalism has emerged).

But this is big intellectual game, and a “minority” game in the various senses of the adjective form if you please, and Swerve does not want to play it this big. Greenblatt gets variety of schools of thought. He would get this type of intellectual challenge, but does not want to play it that way. What would the incentives be? And how big is big, and how low is low? The presumption of authorial intent is a deliberate stoop and conquer best-selling positions in the appropriate mass-media venues. The flotation line here is a certain Eurocentric idealism landing light on the secular providence of “modernity.” All these ships land safely in the American shores of this modernity. Hence, Swerve, I would defend, goes predictably safe in relation to “older” modalities of history writing. It is more Spielberg’s Indiana Jones than Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo in the process of idealistic modernization. There is philological linearity from classical to modern times, but this feels very supple and flexible, too much. There is nothing of the Nietzschean critique of historicist modalities. Swerve does not want to complicate too many things. The basic templates of orthodox intelligibility are kept intact. There is here no philosophy of history, thank you very much, no redefining of the rules of the game of history writing in the new century, and some attenuation of academicism, still the profession of the love of the transcultural literary form.

 

The previous engagement between Jameson and Greenblatt proves that the latter can play it big, sustainably book-long big, I don’t know, but momentarily big in the frame of one-essay book chapter, definitely yes, particularly when challenged. The endnotes to the final chapter prove that he knows old scholarship and politely acknowledges the debt, while making good use of these findings (Swerve is mostly rehashing of previous original cooking, Lachmann and Butterfield, p. 300). The modality of history writing developed in Swerve could be characterized as deliberately unassuming, “postmodern,” in the sense of pop-culture variety of (historical, cultural) relativism, with or without the satisfactory claim of finding one textual strand that becomes one portion of  our modernity. I find the rub is always in Greenblattian historicism how to go from the series of particularities to any one generality. There is no reaching out to any “post-“ imaginings of what the world might look like other than the present variety. The chosen path taken in Swerve confirms who we are, and this is left deliberately open and suggestive, and the strong suggestion is that this is Greenblatt sees himself and how he would like to see the modern world, how he would like us to be. The desiderative modality of materialism, the dance of atoms without intercourse with the deities,  is still played piano, piano. Eureka: magic formula of idealism. Where is the friction? Dangerous idea: that of classical materialism in contemporary America in the age of Obama. Is it? For a book advocating the actuality of atomistic materialism, there is no “higher” level, i.e. historical materialism that will distract, indeed swerve, from this uni-directionality of modern history. There are no modernities here in the radical plural sense pulling in different directions. The individuals in Swerve do not become spokesmen of class or group consciousness. The author of Swerve does not want to go sustainably socio-historical. The wonder and marvel is with a certain miracle of exceptional European creativity, preamble of “who we are,” yet left strategically, politically underdeveloped. It is appropriate accordingly to want to be iconoclastically analytical with such invitations to wonder and marvel, a typical gesture of Greenblatt since Marvelous Possessions. The Burgos Cathedral in the native country of Rico and Gil Fernández has the world-famous clock puppet figure affectionately called papamoscas,a kind of folklore figure who opens the mouth when the clock strikes the hour and thus catch flies better. The puppet represents gullibility: those who are taking in by tricks that leave them with the mouth open. Would you want to go happily thereafter to the individualizations of neo-historicist history writing, amiably fictionalized and eminently customer-friendly, in the re-centering of a certain provincialization of Renaissance Europe? Do you want to take this safe road to the romance with the marvelous and adventurous Renaissance to be consumed over here in the already cold climate of New England conservatively to confirm who you already think you say you are? Will you close your eyes and open your mouth at the narrator’s obscene invitations to awe and marvel in the current climate of the academic humanities in the home of the brave?

How not to engage with the Renaissance then betraying the American dictum not to say anything if you have nothing nice to say? How not to engage with the ideologies of history writing around the Early Modern period when Greenblatt himself makes the cut between the two academic markers? (Post-)colonial is missing in action, also in relation to “America” in both English and Spanish senses of the world, and the “native” rigidity in the term “America” will  not go away any time soon. And there is a certain neo-Burckhardtian modulation in the term “Renaissance” that Swerve does not want to challenge. Renaissance is here the time of the humanists keeping themselves busy with old (classical, Greek and Latin) texts, and there are lots of bureaucratic endeavors around such activity. And Early Modernity is preamble of our own contemporaneity in relation to natural-science nomothetic knowledge of “things as they really are,” think atoms, exclusively. Greenblatt’s move: to celebrate the “letrado” or scribe, the affectionately abbreviated  Poggio who found one Lucretian manuscript which incorporates Epicurean content, and kept it for posterity. One particularity among others. Other philologists have done the recreation of such textual avatars. Hence, the atoms of the universe theoretically do away with the need for gods and goddesses, rituals and conflicts. Is this the case in our postmodernity when a majority of Americans say they believe in angels and when the phenomenon of religion remains meaningful socially in a variety of ways, sometimes distressingly so? Is Epicurus more actual than Parmenides or Heraclitus? Is Lucretius  more present than Livy or Cicero in the Latin constellation? I wonder what old philologists in the Salamanca context would say to that. Is Poggio anything exceptional in relation to other letrados in Italy or Spain? Is Swerve improving the old philology of Rico and Gil Fernández? So, what to make of this Renaissance reconstruction for discreet entertainment value mostly? This is in a nutshell the meaning of the narrative of the Swerve. Does Swerve swerve and from what exactly (Greenblatt refers to the Latin “clinamen,” the sudden movement of matter, p. 7)? The presentation at the Humanities Center was built on the presumption of aesthetic toleration in which the adjective may be said to act as subject and object of the toleration, totem and taboo of a resilient liberalism, the opposite negativity being the bad thing (intolerant, illiberal). The aesthetic is agency and vehicle, catalyst and container and cultural product of the idea of the atoms reaching us today. Greenblatt’s aesthetic is, you guessed it, “culture.” Time capsule and soothing pill, comforter: any temptation to politicize the aesthetic dimension there, then as well as here, now? Not explicitly in Swerve. The natural sciences give us the “truth,” and the humanities give us “toleration” of those “truths” before the time is ripe, before the bright time of the modernity of our now: Swerve is antiquarian history that ornamentalizes, “humanizes,” a certain secular conception of the modern present (more about this funny couple, “aesthetic toleration,” in the next section).

I feel I have to engage with the flaccid conventionality of this Renaissance –think Spielbergian Indiana Jones type of “thriller” and “amazing” narrative, as the advertising proclaims, doing a quick, close-up individualistic approach in the Burckhardtian vein of the presumptive greatness, firmly within the Lippmanesque frame of intelligibility, of US foreign affairs’ interest in “our” history of the West, finishing with, what else but, the self-affirmation of the founding father of the proud nation. I am not claiming that Greenblatt is doing what Lippman was doing. I am claiming that Greenblatt in Swerve is moving in a Western-world terrority Lippman would have liked, and considered his own, and the end-result not upsetting Lippman’s elitist conception either (Old World / New world relations, the Atlantic region, etc.). Institutionally, the trip goes European: Berlin and Rome passing through the recognizable marker of prestigious university franchise. Let us not join hands with papamoscas at the branding of this literature scholarship necessarily always, particularly since one’s memory and desire, can put together scholarly experiences in at least two other national entities where foreign samples of much more convincing scholarship can put Swerve to shame. The author will surely not want to call it high or innovative or even grand scholarship. There is meaningfulness in this gesture of aiming low: Swerve is an intellectually easy historical product coming from high places, and the most interesting question would be to try to imagine the market for Renaissance studies and scholarship. Perhaps, a dwindling one as in all other fields of humanistic knowledge production?

I am engaging with it in some detail obviously because I care about the relationship between historicity and contemporaneity with a particular focus on the home of the brave, your permanent residence, remember?, especially in the vicinity of the tokenized moment of the Renaissance, which is a rather “natural” point of historical endeavor for Spanish-speaking traditions on both sides of the Atlantic that has literature, culture, architecture, music and lots of other things, some of them happening in the “dark” and “under-“ sides of the Renaissance (two dear names, Enrique Dussel and Walter Mignolo for some hints of possible divergences that supersede the Greenblattian reading of the Renaissance). The United States does not have a Renaissance, unless you think of the initial moment of Christopher Columbus, and then drop it quickly, not to develop the Spanish colonization of the South West and Florida, because that will bring you too close for comfort to a Latin America which does have Renaissance, and early and late modernity, tied up with early and late coloniality, which is Europe and the US and the West and Western Hemisphere, and many other things, for example, indigenous, for lack of a better word, as it is explicitly articulated in the critical scholarship strongly since the middle of the 20th century, and there will be many potboilers, cooking pots, gadgets and magicians’ instruments, and chamber pots to go around as well. Comparatively, Greenblatt’s historicism is infinitely poorer, and I have no problems endorsing his careful academic intelligence and text-handling cognizance, still never reaching paleographic and diplomatics and old philology levels of virtual impossibility in contemporary American academy. So, Greenblatt is an American academic who survives and perhaps thrives in his immediate circumstance vis-à-vis Renaissance / Early Modern Studies. And, I presume that there is a certain intentionality of his, perhaps even ease and comfort, in such poverty of historicism, which does not want to rattle the institutional cage, or awaken the various historical ghosts in the national corral, much less address the predicament of the humanities in the conjuncture. What about the interplay between English and other languages also in relation to historical vistas? Perhaps the author thought Swerve was not the best vehicle for such ambitions. Should I fictionalize the thought process of the author? Greenblatt does the Renaissance, in fact he makes a good living out of it, which is more than most people can do, and he does it in high places, and there is abundant praise and perfume, and there is here, should you still be wondering, precious little dark and clouds and underside put in it or sideways in explicit fashion (I will be exposing some of it in the concluding sections). The Renaissance is mostly an early beginning of “who we are,” humanistic preamble of “us,” scholars of textual inclination doing exactly what in the realm of aesthetic or beautiful letters, i.e. “literature,” men and women of the book having our dealing with the “Lie Factory” of bureaucracy and institutionality. Swerve is eminently a collection of manly deeds, and these deeds have to do with texts, writing and reading, and male is the entire genealogy culminating in the discreet author only present in the preamble. But there is the omniscient narrator in the rest of Swerve, oftentimes open to fictionalizing mindsets of historical characters. The claim is that the Lucretian-Epicurean materialism of the dance of atoms is “the,” or perhaps “one,” origin of modernity, or “who we are” the imprecision of the theoretically all-inclusive formula has already been mentioned in relation to the humanists, academics, readers-and-citizens of the proud nation, and the “national allegory” of the “postcolonial” USA speaking for and of the West, yet in English only and against the aforementioned hierarchy of languages.

How does one cultural environment transfer to another? How does the intolerable find spaces of toleration? A manageable typology of three options was assembled by Greenblatt in the Harvard talk: 1/ survival through riddle strategies of survival for epicurean philosophy’s critique of organized religion; 2/ survival through scholarship keeping record of dead worlds; 3/ survival through the “aesthetic” container holding dangerous, challenging or “heretic” content. Mutatis mutandis: any parallels with our contemporaneity? I suppose the transfer  can reach us today but Swerve does not move beyond Jeffersonian self-definition, nor did our esteemed Harvard faculty advance any parallels with our contemporaneity in the Harvard talk, despite playing home court advantage. Chapter ten, “swerves,” mentions three responses to the Lucretian challenge in the context of Renaissance Italy around the figure of the scribe Poggio, “who never associated himself or even grappled openly with Lucretian thought” (p. 221). Our letrado is unwitting connector of worlds: “there is no trace of Poggio’s own response to the poem he had relaunched, nor is anything known of [fellow-travel and more sophisticated humanist] Niccolo [Niccoli]’s reaction, but there are signs –manuscript copies, brief mentions, allusions, subtle marks of influence –that it began quietly to circulate, first in Florence, and then beyond” (p. 210). Hence, with Greenblatt listening to that previous adverb, quietly, Swerve is brief history of received Lucretian ideas of Epicurean persuasion around the suggestion of ideational danger, but languidly. These complementary responses are: 1/explaining away and keeping some distance, as Marsilio Ficino, “holding themselves aloof from their most dangerous ideas” (p. 221); 2/ it is poetry, it is only a beautiful poem type of argumentation; and 3/ “dialogical disavowal” inside the device of the literary dialogue in the Renaisance times with or without the typical official victory of the Christian representative over the spokesman for Epicureanism (p. 222). Swerve gives us no recreation of collective reader response of those dangers, mostly individual expressions of like and dislike. The utterance creates enough ideational world not to want to step outside of it. A second fellow traveler and sophisticated humanist, Lorenzo Valla, is credited with a “sympathetic articulation” of those dangerous ideas (p. 225). We race through the territory of conjecture, and this is fundamentally Greenblatt’s modus operandi, the “stitching” together the various characters and situations in what looks like a certain “transplant” of the old philological methodology yet without yielding to the constitution of a coherent national cultural self-identity, the dream of old philologists (the “grafting of transplants,” the “aesthetic stitching,” even a reference to Cronenberg’s horror film The Fly, were mentioned in the Harvard talk). Readers go through the citations, call it inter-citationality, without ever reaching a larger horizon vistas of a epochal foreignness that could stand up and challenge our own. But is Greenblatt interested in these travels and these troubles? Should we save the American obsession with individuality as the possibility of allegorical modalities of denunciation, but of what? One option: the march of modernity advanced at the history-of-ideas level proposed unequivocably by Swerve.

Having witnessed Greenblatt’s suave public presentation about aesthetic toleration at the Humanities Center, I had a funny feeling of a déjà vu all over again. For one thing I missed non-Anglo-Saxon sparring partners. It felt like very little or nothing was at stake. Was this a certain impulse in the direction of the revival of the philological method, yet without big, comparative vistas? Why was the sociologism of these ideas so little touched upon? Dangerous content? What social function of these ideas? What social function of this type of old-fashioned Renaissance study of reception of ideas? Would it matter very much if the content changed? Wasn’t this a diluted history of ideas in translation only or mostly? Does not this feel like a big retreat from more adventurous positions of Early Modern / colonial studies? I witnessed a good actor pacing himself nicely, sticking to the script, yet with enough flair for improvisation, and yet not pushing buttons too hard, tiptoeing through the tulips of knowledge production and orthodox frames of intelligibility as it were with the occasional reference to dangerous ideas and flirting with “subversion or containment” (p. 224-5). There are no unequivocal pronouncements about the latter dichotomy and the danger kind of goes away five minutes into the presentation. It felt like a more subdued, less sanguine, more Anglo and less Latin, lighter, somewhat philological and yet less rigorously philological version than Francisco Rico, say, who I got to see a few times live during and after my Salamanca training. Again, Swerve becomes “swerves” in the plural, i.e. certain strategies of palatability of “dangerous” (heretic or heterodox) ideas. Are these ideas really pushing “our” envelope? I failed to notice anything. Did anyone after the reading of Swerve feel taken by the feet and given a fair shake upside down? No one told me that. Did anyone attending the presentation feel having the intellectual hair messed up forced to look in the direction of “danger”? Was I naïve in expecting daring gestures, even danger, in the “danger” sign emerging from tenured faculty in visible places? Isn’t precisely a certain conditioning of humanistic institutionality, a survivalist modus operandi let us say, to act discreetly so particularly during times of uncertainty and few customers and a few bargains?

Impossible not to feel accordingly a sense of a perceptible decline, particularly if you have a nice scope of vision of the comparative humanities, against “old philologists” such as Francisco Rico and Gil Fernández, but also Burckhardt’s grand civilizational pinnacle of the European Renaissance, and Norbert Elias’s civilizing process (and I mention these authors because there are fundamentally operating, also Greenblatt, within identical Western-civilization horizon with “regional” varieties of relative interest). How does the made-in-the-USA manufacture of the Renaissance look like comparatively? Not good. Funny thing because Greenblatt has stronger pieces to his credit and he is capable of reliable academicism, but not of the kind of multilingual manuscript-based archival research round the paleographic corner. The mode of this ideological Renaissance may receive the qualifiers of “conservative,” preservationist, even antiquarian as well as philological, but not excessively so (it is my experience that philology is used as synonym of “close-reading” in the US context). I believe that contemporary America cannot, and does not want to, handle historicist dispositions for long, not even in the dominant language, much less in others. The mood of this ideological Renaissance undergoing liquidation –as any other section under historical studies– is tranquil without emotional ups and downs, with or without the references to sexuality, pleasure and desire (early biographical interest in Lucretian sensuality, the bawdiness at the papal curia, pp. 142ff). This sexuality is mostly textuality and things remain properly Bostonian, thank you very much. It is PG-13 sensuality that does not go reach adult-entertainment status. Don’t explicit Fellini, Passolini and don’t count on Visconti. I wonder what that affirmation of pleasure delivers and I cannot think of anything in particular. I get more the feeling of a nice reading with herbal tea against the winter than Nietzschean blast against old positivist historians. Nor does pleasure fundamentally mutate and expand, transform, much less shatter the given. No Bataille. No Levinasian other than being in collective affiliation. There is a feeling of profound solitariness in the whole endeavor of this pop-culture Renaissance: an author looking for any characters and also for readers, any readers, in Pirandellesque fashion? Our late humanist looks at the mirror of history of early humanists and they all keep their clothes on.

Swerve is a constrained, contrived, even a bit contrite variety of historicism playing it eminently safe for popular-culture consumerism of themes of “literature-and-culture.” I hesitate whether to modulate the previous adjectives with the adverb “very.” There is no doom and gloom: no self-reflexivity about the academic humanities that will spoil the mood of the most resilient humanist. This is instead an effort to venture outside and make matters of the humanities matter to a mass audience. This is a popularizing, even a populist gesture. Who can blame anyone for the desire to latitude? That will explain the necessity of certain gestures about the (mis-)deed of the “midwife of modernity”  of the book hunter Poggio Bracciolini, who did it, apparently, “without ever intending or realizing it” (p. 13). Following Greenblatt’s omniscient narratorial voice, we are the ones who realize it in hindsight, and we may feel happy that such findings jibe gracefully with our modernity, or may not. “We” know more than “they” do, but do we?

The reader will find superlative encomium (the poetry was compellingly, seductively beautiful, p. 202, the astonishing and marvelous, the frenzied sexual desire, p. 1, the extremely dangerous views, p. 238, etc.), and feel the cliffhanger. Think of a salesman more than ironic understatements doing the trick piano, piano and I bet our author can do both. The mood is light, more Spielbergian-blockbuster than Werner-Herzog bravado at the edges of Western civilization as mentioned. All things considered, I am surprised at how smooth the public presentation went. No one challenged anything and I wonder if this Anglo-Saxon way of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say ever makes intellectual debates worth attending. I credit the actor –a term of praise coming from someone who loves theater—despite the thinness and perhaps fault lines of the general script, surely incorporating the heavy handed touch of the agent and the editor credited in the final acknowledgements (the simple-sentence insistence, “the Pope was a thug, but he was a learned thug” (p. 163) can only come from the editors, same thing for the “cinematic” cut-off finale that will be treated soon). This is no Fredric-Jamesonian prose and I use the name advisedly. In mood and writing mode, there is accordingly an intentional middle in the middlebrow that keeps scholarship behind curtains, or at a safe distance to reach out to mass appeal (“dazzling, entertaining, an intellectually invigorating nonfiction version of a DanBrown-like mystery-in-the-archives thriller, a vibrant history of ideas, combines hardheaded investigations with a profound feeling, Greenblatt writes with great charm and cinematic flair…;” and this is meant to provide the salt and pepper to the marketability of the potboiler).

Is this about diversifying the intellectual portfolio with articles in the more scholarly vein around the same topic being published in lit-and-crit magazines with precious few readers? The language of the presentation included none of these simple sentences of easy impact. There was no big issue or specific problem that I can recall either about “Aesthetic Toleration: Lucretius and the Survival of Unacceptable Ideas.” What catches the attention is the contrast between unacceptability and tolerance, with or without the name of the classical author: good thing (tolerance) and bad (unacceptability, danger, yet from what perspective?) and one specific instance in the humanities, with bigger claims for “modernity.” The most interesting question to me, by far, is the jump from this or that particularity to the totalizing singularity.

Are there any intellectual problems addressed by Swerve? Greenblatt wants to have us convinced of the “plague” of the “classical” material conception of the universe, of the atomism and atheism of “things as they are” (“plague” is a reference to Freud, mentioned in the text). There is an assumed construction of an ontology of “nature” at work here, also social and political nature?, a certain naturalism if you wish, and I feel I want to suspend such nature and the smoothness of the operation, particularly so since this is something like hearsay in the book, that is emphatically not about science in the non-humanity and non-social-science division of disciplines. Thus, Swerve represents a mid-cult humanities-type production kneeling qua menina in front of the unexplored ontology provided by the natural sciences. Where else could our author go to singularize the beginning and the end, i.e. modernity? What the author wants is for the uncritical readers to join him in the marvel of the supposed coincidence that puts the Greek-Latin preamble (Epicurus, Lucretius) side by side the achievements of 19th and 20th science (Newton, Darwin, Freud, etc.). The Renaissance moment (“something happened in the Renaissance,” p. 9). becomes the early modern moment when it realizes secularism, when it comes into being but also when we become aware that we are doing such a thing. As mentioned, the head that achieves such realization is not the book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini’s, despite being the “midwife to modernity” (p. 13). It is we who do it in some sort of general-culture, high-school sort of way: they believed in gods, we follow science, their rituals become our atoms, yet they loved knowledge, and so do we, supposedly, etc. Swerve is self-conscious about the role of mediation among stages of the development of modernity. But there is no doubt about the good end-result.

The jump between antiquity and modernity is a big one and some marvel appears appropriate. It is still a certain type of marvel that does not want to become philosophical, and explicitly so (p.199). It appears easy, prefabricated, eminently subservient to the tacit, orthodox symbolic intelligibility of the immediate surroundings. It is more marvel along the lines of a properly educated kid receiving the presents in the holiday season under the premises of late-capitalism consumerism than iconoclastic wear-and-tear of a hole among the happy Christmas holiday season under false pretenses. No iconoclasm in Swerve: the ancestors in the legacy of high-culture Europe fought for things we now not consider worth fighting for. But this is a rescue operation of at least one set of ideas, let us call them Lucretian for short. How that set interplays with others in the antiquity toolbox kit is not explored. There is an implicit feeling that we have been already there, in the certainty, for a while, thanks to the achievements of the natural sciences. The human sciences are here happy to yield to the certainty of “things as they really are” (no fear: no Dilthey or Wallerstein complicating the picture of the association). Yet, is this really the case? One example is the religious domain, kept at an intellectual distance in Swerve. Greenblatt has no curiosity about it. And the renditions of the corrupt papal burocracies inside which readers must imagine the Italian scribe Poggio Bracciolini –images of Indiana Jones were coming to my mind—feel caricaturesque and cartoonish. On the contrary, this kid thinks instead that the whole point of scholarship is instead to go deeper in the desengaño of the mechanism of burocratized social relations, including writing and reading, without leaving behind the present configuration of the academic profession. The exploration of the idea needs to put the idea in the head of the thinking subject who is struggling to signify in its own immediate and less immediate universe of social relations. The scholarship that cuts such interconnectivity becomes suspicious. Swerve is an egregious example of a manageable history of ideas of matter minus materialism.

World and Modern Are “Us,” right? Or Better Yet, We are the Modern World (and What Else Could “We” Be?).

What is the vision of history suggested in Swerve accordingly against other visions? What do “we” find when we look at ourselves into this mirror of history? I would argue that the book is set up so that the narrator confirms his already existing universe, yes, modern, and that he wants us to join him and make it ours as well. Swerve answer to these previous questions: modernity –and you are in it, where else would you be?— always already is a free-floating circulation of small units, atoms, ideally in a situation of contentment. Gods are not needed for “rational” explanations (“[t]he stuff of the universe, Lucretius proposed, is an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction” (p. 5). If you are getting intellectual pleasure contemplating such nature of things, how does your pleasure partake in it? It is as though affect its way anthropomorphizing the theoretical situation of reflection that minimizes or de-differentiates subjectivity. What is your relationship to your own atoms?, perhaps the question is less ridiculous than it appears at first glance. The double solution of Swerve: atomism and Epicureanism. How does anyone put together those two nouns in some coherent sequence, is not clear. Swerve does not engage with Lucretius’ Order of Things: it cites some sections, it synthesizes its main ideas (chapter eight), which the reader must assume, following the narratorial convention, to be the author’s belief system, or at least the desire of it along the previous mention of the therapy of the fear of death. But, why the travel, and why the trouble if this the end goal, which I think it is: to bring calm to the anxiety of your own biological, biographical demise? Lucretius feels like the excuse and pretext against the sketchy reconstructions of other characters around him. Swerve, minimia moralia of soothing literature, when other “more serious” disciplines do not provide satisfactory existential answers in the end, a devotio moderna of sorts readily available to our incredulous postmodernity? Greenblatt’s assumed proposal of an imitation of Lucretius for others as well?

Why is the Lucretian universe elevated from its specific instance or concrete particularity to such levels of universality? This is what Greenblatt does not say. I do not think he will know not what to say except he seeks refuge in the facts of the sciences, minus the “human” modifier, when everything appears to have gone to smithereens. I have no other way around this particularist subjectivism that jumps ever so “naturally” to the universalist objectivism of the sciences, minus the “human” modifier. This is one gist of Swerve, but also of Greenblattian historicism in general: this premeditated equation and “excessive” or “unwarranted” identity of particularity and generality, of subjectivism and objectivism. And there is no bother with the philosophical implications of such identities. Yet in another way, Swerve is “conservative” confirmation of the righteousness of modernity, or things as they are, or even the status quo. The cinematic finale of a Jeffersonian self-definition leaves no room to doubt in case you still had some.  Too much is taken for granted in it and I doubt that international readers will react warmly to this “obvious” choice of founding father of the proud nation. Remember that such figure was missing in the preface? So, this is an American “home coming” of sorts, a providential harbor to an easy travel that had its route foretold: the modernity you got started with in the end, baby, if I may be excused the poetic license. And perhaps the Samuel Beckett line of failing again and failing better applies here as well, since no single body of ideas appears triumphant in our messy conjuncture. The Lucretian world appears here prefiguration of the natural world glossed over, a kind of minimalist belief system in smallest and movable units, a Lilliputian world if you wish. The observer’s desire, at least in relation to Greenblatt’s account, does not want to go “higher” to more complex (political, social, etc.) arrangements. There is a minimalism at work here, that still identifies subjectivism and objectivism with no apparent mediation (we must assume the narrator’s omniscient voice, Greenblatt’s). In times of epistemic confusion, or messiness, it appears that the humanities must bring things down to a manageable level, but must they?

And who is tackling explicitly such meaningful unhappy messiness, even among the tenured faculty? And you know the moment you start asking this type of questions in public someone will show up to generate the necessary positive-negative dichotomy talk and how how best to wipe clean the name of the brand, and sell the franchise, while calling your  intellectual efforts “cynical,” think American idiom, not the romance-language false cognate, and how this is a bad thing, while they are the “good” ones, the adjective, tautologically speaking, “ensphering (sic) onto itself in a space apart,” recreating the author’s intentional language. Swerve is “good” in this double sense, and the subtitle gives it away for the warranted blame game: “how the world became modern.” Now, a safe thing to say is that this is an excessive, disproportionate gesture, the identity of the individual and the entire epoch, perhaps appropriate for the marketability of Swerve, but nothing else. I claim that we should see Swerve as one specific instance of the genealogy of modernity away from antiquity (p. 11) and “void and nothing else.” This use of the adjective “modern” is very American, now in the “bad” sense of American, which is this:

 

World and modern are “us.” Or, better yet, the assumption is that “we,” in the privileged subject position, are “the modern world (and what else can “we” be?). Or am I wrong in relation to the immediate circumstance that I happen to share with Greenblatt, at least for the time being? You have only to follow demotic Americana: “us,” as in all of us, a theoretical all-inclusive, of undefined timespace boundaries, with the tactical suppression of the assumed difference, or “they” or even enemy if you wish, even if the immediate national set-up is kept implicit or assumed, naturalized or silenced. Such silenced immediate circumstance of modern timespace is operative as self-appointed representative of the whole wide world of meaningfulness, or the matter or interest in the world, or the world that matters. There is less exploration of worlds that did not become modern, in whatever way you want to take the m-adjective, thus dialectically challenging any successful linearity with its promises of renaissance and rebirth, as soon as following generations kick their interest into gear. Yet in another way, there is a rigidification and appropriation –also an arrogation, is the Latin origin too cumbersome in this context?– of the sign “modern” that fights to being somebody else’s “possession:” they cannot be as much of the good thing as we can, and perhaps this presumption of the superior position, or number one position, is deteriorating by the time I am writing these lines (superiority, jingoism, imperialism are synonyms of such position). One sharp contrast: I doubt that the rigorous philology of Rico or the detailed sociologism of Gil Fernández would be inclined to making claims about any one authorial singularity informing the desiderative ideational texture of the global modernity. It is still less common to assume such theoretical equality in the eventuality that “we” have to catch up with it (the previous original Latin expression of arrogation has the double meaning of the righteous claim to adopt one whose consent may legally be asked, in the original Latin expression, and the current English expression going in the direction of the illicit, haughty, insolent claim, or to lay claim without reason). My assessment of the American appropriation of a simplified notion of modernity, mostly in the English sense of the original Latin, is operative in Swerve, and my readers will have to decide whether they want to go English or Latin on this one. Such appropriation does not stay self-contained. It is then Westernized and universalized, but unconvincingly so, and typically in customer-service and bureaucratic social-control fashion, manufactured-consent, Lippman style. Marginal, if resilient positions may occasionally see vaster landscapes: Latin American readers of philosophies of history have the proximity of the work of Leopoldo Zea, Anglo-American readers have a longer distance to travel to reach forcefully thicker, darker textures of modernity.

There is also typically little trace of what may follow (post-modernity), as though a certain fashionable language failed to catch up the collective imagination, and the parenthetical word has almost become a pejorative term, a term of abuse, instead of a constellation that is up for grabs for each cultural-relative locality provided the interested observers can manage to reach out to a convincing comparativism of historical and actual perspectives. How to look at this “modern world” when we remember that the sign “modern” and moderno in Spanish are operative since the XV century with the famous quarrels between ancient and modern peoples? I wish to bring some awareness –also denaturalization– to the typical Americanization, or simplification earlier suggested, also in relation to the English language included in Swerve:  the thinning out and singularization of vision of the desirability of a (global) trajectory with or without clear timespace boundaries (in philological fashion, in Spanish, from modo, moderno, feeling the diachronicity inside the rigid sign, “hace un momento,” S. XV, Autoridades; in English, “hodiern, modern, sempitern, Angelical regyne,” 1500-1520; “the next parliament to be haldin… in name of our maist gracious queen moderne,” 1555; “the first and modern President of the said Society,” 1752; “the writings of the auncient and modern Geographers and Historiographers,” 1585, OED). There are some etymologies in Swerve but there are mostly quick synonyms for Latin words  (secretary/ secret, p. 19, pagan / rustic, p. 100, etc., typically solved quickly). What I am trying to get at is the underlining of the typical fracture between historical and actual, so that the historical is merely background to the fast-paced changes of the now, or modernity, the corresponding flattening and thinning out the diachronicity of the historical actuality, the obliteration of the difference between coetáneo and contemporáneo (coetaneidad in Spanish, which is the lively meaningfulness of the things that accompany you, not necessariy the same as the latest novelty, arrival, version, etc., not necessarily the most meaningful). It was Octavio Paz who remarked the difference between the two notions that does not travel well to contemporary American English language: one thing is the latest thing and quite another is the most meaningful thing (a dead author may be most meaningful to you against the whole collection of contemporary presences). Greenblatt argues for the modernity of Lucretius, which he delivers for our “postmodernity,” which is so, if only in relation to his “classicism” passing through a series of transports from one cultural locality to another until reaching us here in 21st century USA, transports at least philologically speaking.

I claim that the mainstream terminology of modernity, the latest thing is the most meaningful thing, plus the Americanization of the various meanings of modernity, is still the substratum of history operative in Swerve, and this is not necessarily surprising, since such cultural product wants to function in all popularity in such society first, and perhaps in others later. I find such simplification of modernity the political unconscious of the immediate society at large, perhaps coming from the world of technological determinism. Such normality cannot ever be assumed to be the most beautiful and most marvelous, most natural and best thing in the worldwide web of historical and social relations.

 

Greenblatt is too smart not to get into historical structures of comparativism and inclusion / exclusion, embedded in such abstract political formulas, we /they, at least within the chosen vehicle of Swerve. And I may be too dumb to touch of them without a thread out of the labyrinth. The ending of the book with the “cinematic flair” of the father of the nation’s self-definition –to whom but “us” in the U.S. inside the world that matters?– gives the ideological trap away, in case you still wanted to give Greenblatt the benefit of the doubt: the epicurean strand in the ideational essence of the birth of the nation. What world is the one Greenblatt pushing forward? Well, since the word “capitalism” is missing, it must be the civilizing impulse of the high-culture moment of the Renaissance, Poggio one modest representative among other stronger players to be sure, passing through a certain “white” European legacy that looks back at Greece and Rome in a certain way, and ties in with “things as they are,” mostly according to natural-science findings. The Renaissance is preamble to the foundation of the nation that retrieves the history that matters via the Enlightenment tradition retroactively activating certain “classical” memory of Europe. And where is this retrieval operation active if not in the business-culture of a society becoming world-power since the mid-20th century, with early stirrings in the moment of modernism (Spanish modernismo precedes the English cousin, but that is another matter, aesthetically speaking). The theme of decline is already popular-culture commonplace (two recent examples, “The End of American Era” by Stephen M. Walt, The National Interest (Nov /Dec., 2011, Num. 116): pp. 6-16;; and “Is America Over?: The Broken Contract: Inequality and American Decline” by George Packer, and “The Wisdom of Retrenchment: America Must Cut Back to Move Forward,” by Joseph M. Parent and Paul K. MacDonald, Foreign Affairs, (Nov./Dec. 2011): pp. 20-31, 32-47. Keep the national retrenchment in mind vis-à-vis the individualist “ensphering” of Poggio reading classical authors…

I find that Walter Lippman would have applauded this North-Atlantic construction of a Western civilization by the aesthetic-humanities variety defended by Greenblatt, and I am thinking of the brief historical landscapes open by U.S. Foreign Policy and U.S. War Aims for example, published the year of the birth of our noted author. With or without the “provocation” of the debilitation of all religious beliefs, be these Christian, Jewish or Muslim, while leaning towards the utopianism of a peaceful paganism, the identity is established between “we” or “things” and the smallest single-units of matter, the atoms; think extreme individuality with tenuous attachments to already existing landscapes and social groups, engaged in endless motion and constant intercourse, sometimes vigorous and joyous, sometimes not. Swerve is this upswing or “good history” and “good” march of (European, Western) civilization in the radically singular form, as though a certain type of story-telling technique of book marketability in moments of poor book marketability could not do without such commonplaces without complications such as “postcolonial criticism,” for lack of a better word. Suspending all externalities: we are all implicated somehow in this business of history writing, even in the very repudiation of the business of history writing, and there is “history” whether you want to acknowledge it or not, whether you are aware of it or not. Swerve includes an affirmation of vitality (p. 9), of vital history, Ortega y Gasset’s mention of the throb you feel pulsating in the wrists when you press them with the fingers, is a nice parallel to the author’s mother’s fears of mortality spoken earlier (p. 9).  Swerve is more assuaging those fears, than setting them on fire, more therapy than unleash, more alleviation and mitigation than setting loose expansive cognitive powers and see where these may travel and give trouble, come what may. Despite an early biographical inclusion, Greenblatt does not follow the lines of situationist existential historicism that one might associate with Ortega y Gasset, who has a few things to say about the Renaissance and historical reason, or the organic “intra-history” of Unamunian predilection, and he might have found something of interest there, even in Spain! But why should Greenblatt go elsewhere, more “radical” Latinamerican formulations for example? What are the incentives for such fracture? There is a contraction to more restrictive notions of Renaissance grandeur, accordingly, for the purposes of the best-seller package. There is therefore, I feel, a certain closing of the American mind to an expansive awareness of what “history” may have in store for us, mostly good things, or that history is precisely what hurts, a magisterial one-liner by Fredric Jameson who will never be accused of cushioned provisions. Swerve will not entertain such unpleasant thoughts. It is too much for a manageable book, American style, that seeks mostly to make a little money than the academic usual, as though such a thing ever mattered to humanistic knowledge production typically making no money at all. The salient point is the opposite: to open up and make the legacy of the Renaissance greater, not necessarily “positive” never to assume a “feel-good” genealogy that will reach to “things as they really are,” but to engage with the epistemic messiness between, say, nomothetic and idiographic modalities of knowledge production.  Hence, I am proposing attaching “negativity” to the severe limitations Swerve represents in the vicinity of decolored clichés of a certain “Renaissance.” Let us look into the potboiler a bit more in detail and later suggest some dangerous ideas and alternatives.

 

Assessing the Main Body of the Matter.

I find a perceptible retreat, even a self-assumed poverty of the historicism, a withdrawal from big social issues in Swerve and the puzzle is why and how our 68-year-old, experienced, well-preserved, careful humanities scholar playing home court advantage with the US and Harvard banners wants to play this safe and predictable way in the second decade of the 21st century of tremendous convulsions. Making a parody of the American idiom: Swerve gets old quickly. It is still not that easy, I find, to engage with it critically, particularly in the current climate of agonies of historicity in the home of the brave. Swerves, or sudden epistemic shifts, are not what you would expect to come from those aforementioned environments (there is a sexual connotation to the term “swerve” to be left alone for more informal environments). I can’t help but read some of the perceptions of our author as indirect, not so oblique “comments” on the contemporary “manufactured-consent” (the Chomsky formula is taken from Walter Lippman) conditioning of academic humanities in the home of the brave (and there will be one section developing this most interesting aspect of the book). But before one must say that the vision of society advanced here is one of eminent particularity and individuality with ad hoc quick reconstructions of context (think of social hours in museums against the works of art hanging from the walls, Renaissance history in Swerve feels a bit like that against the larger context of American society). And the excessive claim is that such individualities –call it Epicure, Lucretius, Jefferson, etc.— shoot themselves, like cannonballs, to hit the rainbow in the sky, “things as they are,” and thus become “modern” for all of us located below who are in the know hundreds of years later. The book hunter finds an old item that will change the world, not so much his but ours. Butterfly effect: Poggio is the catalyst of our modernity, at least according to Greenblatt’s exegesis. This must be the read as the utopian dream of quiet academics of frequent visitations to library spaces, and I should now because I am one of them, but do I dream this big all the way to my findings will make the present and future world zero in on its modernity? “Charmed circles of bibliomania” (p. 177), and the “most seductive blandishments of the book hunters” (p. 39) : social things work their way through charm and seduction. It is safe to say that such social graces are hardly the stuff of adventure and escapism that sells well. Some credit is due when the main adventure is allegedly manuscript survivability and transmission of old ideas. Perhaps one can peel off the cheap layers of the onion of commercial book selling and retain this moderate core of mitigated philology in a society that offers little patience with books, let alone philological reconstruction of book adventures. Should we all follow the Stanley Fish mock command previously mentioned and aim low in relation to the purchase of foreign knowledge production of other timespaces and thus survive? The dictum, “you are yourself and your circumstances and if you do not save them you will not save yourself,” cuts too close at the present moment of this writing. The charm and the seductive blandishments are gone. Here, there is no work, no fight, no state, no “imagined community” (the late humanists?), to use Benedict Anderson’s formula. Will the current shipwreck of the humanities find inspiration and wisdom in ancient varieties of the humanities? That is the challenge of the “renaissance” not for preceding generations, but for us.

The ancient knowledge vindicated is Lucretius’s poem On the Nature of Things. The Roman poet recreates Greek-origin Epicureanism. The Italian bureaucratic copies the old manuscript and the “dangerous” ideas in it reach us today, surprisingly?, in happy coincidence with the discoveries of science. Yet, dangerous in relation to what social groups, what frames of intelligibility? The dangerous belief system of a collective enemy? Or the old-fashioned belief system deemed superseded inside the naturalized frame of Western civilization, becoming quaint and charming, book-encased seductive blandishment at least in some quarters (one of the things that sharp- biting socio-historicism would do is to historicize the format of the book, do sociologies of reading practices, speculate about social functions, etc.). We don’t know what the Italian bureaucrat thought of such reproduction. Greenblatt makes a big deal not only of the survivability of the historical chain, understandable philological admiration encompassing thousands of years and reaching from Ancient Greece to the east coast of the United States of America, via the Italian peninsula in the early moment of Humanism in the shade of the Renaissance. And from the American base, there is a certain universalization, call it always by the name of modernity with a distinct American idiom, yet keeping its distance from other “native” varieties (the language of postmodernity is not present in Swerve, perhaps because it remains academic and non-idiomatic, perhaps because it lands the Renaissance package in the Jamesonian’s late capitalist trap?). This is the trajectory, the thread, the network of the Epicurean-Lucretian content of “dangerous” ideas. One wonders why such digression into history when what is wanted is the affirmation of the individual contentment in frugal, quietist form away from theologies. The kind of general-public narrative that speaks of the modernity of antiquity is one that my parents’ generation in provincial Europe by the middle of last century would have found familiar, yet without the American chapter. See my feeling of déjà vu?

Greenblatt’s main interest is accordingly located at the intersecting travels of these monads (Epicurus, Lucretius, Poggio Bracciolini, Jefferson). Conjecture is heavy around the nomadism of the individual pieces, but this is fine and dandy for an interpreter who has made a manifesto out of cultural mobility. Historical subjectivism here behaves like quicksilver: no container or frame will hold it permanently. The connectedness feels Foucaultian construction of a supple and ad hoc genealogy, more Mobius strip than clearly demarcated straight boundary lines. And yet for all the “unexpected, unpredictable movements of matter” (p. 7), for all the “innumerable forgettings, disappearances, recoveries, dismissals, distortions, challenges, transformations, and renewed forgettings” (pp. 6-7), there is the certainty of the world vision of the individual author, his belief system, which he claims found corroboration in the Lucretian poem first read in the years of graduate school at Yale University (p. 7). Good for him! For all the jigsaw puzzle, network of localities, yet mostly European in referentiality and European and American English in the bibliographic apparatus, there is the linearity of the various individual characters, Greenblatt’s mother and the author included. For all the “disorder” of the ideal toleration of cultural relativism, belief systems, etc., there is nomothetic construction of a “natural order” (p. 10) to which the idiographic plurality of thick textures should yield. For all the messiness of the foreign languages, there is the hegemony of the American idiom inside or outside the popular-culture book of Renaissance history, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the wonderful forms of antiquity, this is more domestic animal than wild creature out of bounds, there is modernity in the radical singular form, the “basis for the contemporary rational understanding of the entire world” (p. 8). Finally, for all the swerving, there is here “canon,” think etymologically Latin and Greek first, but do not stop there. Greenblatt’s English-canon construction allows room to be supple and flexible enough, to bend and not break say, in the travels between an already mitigated academicism and larger dimensions of pop-culture commercialism, and back.

Greenblatt fundamentally wants to make the grand-gesture announcement of the modern world. He wants to be the angel Gabriel to contemporary believers in modernity. Swerve is pious in this radical sense, perhaps in a contrived manner, think of meapilas in Spanish, with or without the gesture of bringing your eardrum closer to the ground to catch the stamping sounds of dangerous ideas, hooves and long tails and all of these reputed horsemen of the apocalypse emerging from the past in relation to whatever stands for your current modernity. Yet, again, dangerous ideas for whom? Us in the U.S. now? For the old Greek, or the old Romans, or the early Sixteenth Century creatures around Poggio, or the Eighteenth Century circle of Jefferson,  the lay readers of Swerve, perhaps believers in the natural-science ordering of the world? Such antiquarian humanities make thus a double claim: they come before the corroborations of the natural sciences, and the aesthetic and scholarly package is at least one preservation strategy of certain ideas that otherwise would die the horrible death of unpopularity at the hands of the intolerant authorities (Thomas More and Giordano Bruno have their vignette moments in Swerve, which feels at times a more modest version of historical popularizations a la Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, also a great film, with all the right ingredients, medievalism and darkness, seductive blandishments in monastery libraries, frenzied sexual activity, evil monks, murder mystery and evil Inquisition included! Feel free to compare European and American versions of old European history!). In Swerve, the theme of aesthetic toleration acquires something of a universal formulation, or at least the subjective predilection of one strand antiquity is at least presented with no discernible boundaries as to what constitutes the boundaries of modernity, if any. This is one unresolved tension, the jump from the figment, thread or strand in the belief system of this or that individual, without greater, messier contextualizations of other ideas and other belief systems, whether assumed, fictionalized or otherwise, to the collective dimension, you and me and previous generations before and after, the perennial now of “modernity” say, with vague pre- and no clear post- moments, and “world” of universality, and of what else if not of a certain European history yet without work, fight, state, etc.? So, you tell me what kind of history of ideas is this that leaves the immediate “home,” knowing full well that the chicken will come home, and come home safely, by the sign “unacceptable ideas,” after having done exactly what? What kind of “dazzling” and “entertaining” adventure is this if not some kind of popular-culture academicism that would love to become film entertainment with more audiences and more money? This “modernity” does not include “intolerance,” and there is no insinuation of a Marcusean critique of the “repressive tolerance.” But on what grounds when we are put to contemplate a graceful dance of individual characters? Latin poetry is here introduced as aesthetic preamble of the kind of modernity, i.e. naturalism, toleration, that the author accepts as his own (p. 7). And who would go to the American public claiming the opposite negative noun, intolerance? Think small units, atoms, dots, digits, even pixels. Think individuality connecting with other individualities in the past, yet mostly following a male line of philological endeavors. That’s Swerve. Build the identity chain yourself if you wish: nomadism, monadism, monadology, impermanence and ephemerality… Even solipsism, and with it egotism and even egoism, since there is less interest in reconstruction the social groups to which these individualities belong (no jigsaw puzzle piece without the larger frame, yet no figure without clear boundaries, etc. Swerve “messes up” the clarity of boundaries, and I do not see the authorial voice assuming one most meaningful and encompassing frame of intelligibility, except the natural-science findings). The whole subjectivist edifice of Swerve leans of the objectivity of the non-humanities with nothing else apparently out there to appeal to.

Yet, the assumption of natural-science objectivity remains undeveloped as though we all always already took it for granted (the natural sciences are the bare-bone chair and the humanities the upholstery and the graphic, ornamental design so that we can all sit comfortably in our modernity). Greenblatt’s impulse is typically to make us marvel (p. 6) at the singularity of individual achievement, a kind of international relay-race, yes, with “innumerable forgettings, disappearances, recoveries, dismissals, distortions, challenges, transformations, and renewed forgettings” (pp. 6-7). But don’t worry, there is final modernity, ours, “the vital connection is there,” the contemporary worldview of the single author is there in the cultural product of antiquity, mirror of history that gives you your own reflection, against a wallpaper social background (the opposite of Gil-Fernández’s scholarship on letrados, for example). Greenblatt wants to seek and find the aesthetic beauty inside bureaucratic corruption, and wants us to go along with him. His is a humanistic understanding of the sign “literature” already against the social-science use of the sign “literature” in the contemporary American English usage (anything written, any type of written evidence or context in any discipline). In Spanish, Greenblatt clings to the transcendence of literatura within and against mundo letrado. He seeks beautiful things, i.e., aesthetics, within and against larger, bigger, infinitely more biting and certainly darker and more distressing worlds of Kafka flavor: economics, law, politics, etc. Does our smart author want to ride this hobbyhorse permanently? Maybe he can afford it. Yet our reader response: this is incredibly unsatisfactory, intellectually and emotionally. What kind of aesthetics are we assuming here? And most importantly, what kind of politics?

Underline such “aesthetic” and put it in your backpocket for a more careful reflection in the future. The strong intuition is that this is the only space that the humanities can or want to occupy in the contemporary field of studies in our society, at least according to our designated interpreter. The impulse appears to be to free oneself from conflictive collective bargaining, and to be able to afford the freedom of movement of the constitutive individual particles. Mutatis mutandis: the ideal, official fiction of liberalism, no? Swerve is not really about the laborious reconstruction of the social puzzle of these individual jigsaw pieces. The camera angle, the narratorial voice if you wish, is relatively holding a close-up camera to the individual figures, cinematically speaking, sometimes inside their brains speculating about fictional hypotheticals (“Poggio saw the Rhine cascading in a waterfall and the loud sound made him think of classical descriptions of the fall of the Nile” (p. 174); “Poggio did not like monks… As he approached his targeted monastery, Poggio would have buried these views in his breast. He may have despised monastic life, but he understood it well,” (p. 37); “Poggio could have told himself… that the brilliant ancient poet simply intuited the emptiness of pagan beliefs and hence the absurdity of sacrifices to gods who did not in fact exist” (p. 184); “[Poggio] was unleashing something that threatened his whole mental universe. Had he understood the threat, he might still have returned the poem to circulation: recovering the lost traces of the ancient world was his highest purpose in life, virtually the only principle, uncontaminated by disillusionment and cynical laughter. But has he did so, he might have uttered the words that Freud reputedly spoke to Jung, as they sailed into New York Harbor to receive the accolades of their American admirers: “Don’t they know we are bringing them the plague?” (p. 182-3). The omniscient narrator jumps centuries in these comparisons. He also clings to the “old” philological dream: the renaissance and rebirth of a specific item of antiquity that coincides with a certain understanding of modernity. Greenblatt finds the needle in the hay of history: the one manuscript that changed the history of the whole world, the very American-style, excessive gesture that speaks of best and number one. The moment you bring it down to one particularity, one specificity, one item among others, the whole argument loses force. And I think it does particularly when the rendition of the frame of intelligibility is left underdeveloped, assumed and outsourced to the natural-sciences. Parse the grammar of the previous sentences to find the impossible type of perfect conditional. Swerve dwells in the might have been, the fictionality of the story-telling. This history is heavy on such device that appears not to need the factualism of a more hardcore philology or a more bare-knuckle sociologism.  This is a more charming approach caught up in literary blandishments around the category of the aesthetic. Our suave scholar gestures towards the “plague” brought to the Americans by the foreigners (Freud, Jung). In a sense, he is posing as something similar. But, do you see our suave scholar tousling their hairdos of their fellow Americans, grabbing them by the lapels… and getting the award. Swerve feels to me more like a palliative than an instigator, with the titillation of “danger” in the realm of ideas in the radical past, call it classical if you wish. Do we open the windows, and our shirts, let our hair down and marvel at it? Greenblatt builds the entire book on the fictionalization of the possibility of the individual assuaging of the fear of death, put Lucretius, Epicurus and Poggio and others around it. Would you agree with me about the banality of the always relative and precarious contentment of the individual unit?

Swerve, veer, deviate, depart, digress, diverge of what from what into what then? Run around the semantic field, and then apply the meanings to some particularity against a larger frame of intelligibility. The working assumption is that of departing from one belief system to another, of veering from the magical religiosity of the god/s to the materialism of atoms in some kind of minima moralia of individualistic ethics that is intent on maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain (Ortega y Gasset has comparable, most beautiful pages about belief and the hole of belief inside which philosophy emerges precisely in the uncertainty and precariousness of the holding of existence). Typically, there is no higher social level to this “lowest” common denominator. Swerve is emphatically not about social-class interaction as though a certain individualism of characterization was the floating line of popular-culture product, films or books. There is no shift of one’s position or allegiance, each individuality appears cardboard representative in the diorama of his particularistic timespace, and grand gestures about the dismantling of worlds. But whose?  Yours, dear reader, mine, Greenblatt’s? The messy, bureaucratic world of the state bureaucrat?: “What is not clear is whether he [Poggio Bracciolini] had any intimation at all that he was releasing a book that would help in time to dismantle his entire world” (p. 50). The rest of the book does not allow to rest the case of such theoretical epistemic-shift commotion (a trivialization of the renaissance period is to make the born-again quality more “manageable” and individualistic). After the careful reading, I puzzle about what the case might be, that it does not appear to be a strong case, and that the thinness of the case, as soon as you stick it to its particularity against no defined frame of intelligibility does not matter. The history of the Renaissance in Swerve is fundamentally hypothetical story-telling with fictionalized sequences of mindset reading of historical characters, supposedly catching cinematic tricks, against some philological procedure, and I wish to emphasize the some. There is some pleasure in such speculations. The grand, grotesque gesture of total change with no sense of measure is more problematic, think of the winning team in baseball being called champions of the world, when the world does not want to play such American game. There is a certain obliviousness of the rest of the world that Swerve reproduces not in the parochial field of baseball, but in the more international field of European Renaissance studies (the endnotes state debts to the work of other scholars, there is no originality, no original sin in Swerve, if I may put it that way). Still, the strong claim remains: the modern world here changes thanks to Poggio Bracciolini’s transmission and Greenblatt’s mediation puts such transmission on our discussion table: the presumption of a Forrest-Gump-unconscious conductor of larger historical transformations of social and historical and political forces. Think of the so-called “butterfly effect” of unpredictable consequences, the manuscript gathering dust in the monastery library becomes a time capsule the delivers rebirth of past worlds of exotic beauty having a tsunami effect of total world transformation hundreds of years later. The narrator’s voice surveys this vast landscape of history from some kind of bird eye’s position of total freedom, apparently. The American platform of observation is totally ideal: no frictions, no obstacles, no limits. There is no acknowledgment of any glitch, no beam in the narrator’s eye, no hiccup in the pipelines of the infrastructure of the adventurous Renaissance, the sawdust is mostly in the eyes of the members of the papal curia, together with their jealousies, crude sexual jokes, political ambitions, etc. These old guys were really bad, weren’t they?

All is done in the name of aesthetic toleration, or what one might wish to call civility, the supreme value also defended publicly by my beloved historian Dipesh Chakrabarty who still managed to advocate the “provincialization of Europe.” One can build the parallel with the mirage of liberalism as frictionless society with no exteriority and no repudiations, hence we have to be civil and tolerant of cultural differences within the largest frame of intelligibility assumed as natural and left largely untouched. Except that here, Swerve provincializes the notion of the modern in an up-close, smaller-scale and portable manner, if you wish, Europeanization of the international moment of the Renaissance. There is a retrenchment of the intellectual disposition, a going back to a certain notion of the Renaissance that would have pleased James Brown Scott, who handled Francisco de Vitoria in a certain liberal way. Almost a hundred years later, this is how I see Greenblatt handling the Renaissance transmission of classical ideas, Lucretius and Epicurus, in the field of “aesthetics.” The general mood of marvel conveyed by Greenblatt’s story-telling accepts the fundamental situation, the status quo, if you wish, as the right one. The invitations to marvel do not want you to grab a few stones and throw threw at the wrong ideas in your own society. That would be dangerous. Does Greenblatt want to propose a quiet revolution instead towards secularism and individual contentment? Swerve demonstrates that he fundamentally accepts the rules of the (epistemic, social, historical, political, academic) game.

The fundamental question is whether the (epistemic, social, historical, political, academic) gain is worth it, also in relation to a richer, more complex understanding of the moment of the Renaissance. The presumed heterodoxy of historical characters (Greek philosopher, Latin poet, Italian scribe, the founding father of the new nation, etc.) has become the accepted orthodoxy of some late humanists in certain social pockets of relative privilege at least according to our interpreter, and by extension, of “modernity” at large. So, isn’t Swerve fundamentally about retroactive confirmation of the orthodoxies of our tense present times? It is also an elitist version of the reception of the history of ideas, trickle-down “minority” history of ideas without an ambitious panorama of competing horizons, roads taken and not taken, etc. which here gets its mass-culture popularity, at least some of it. Swerve is portmanteau idealist history with genuine aversion to tinker with institutionality, except in relation to the cartoonish depictions of the bad Italians around the “lie factory” and the “pit that catches foxes” (chapters six and seven). Poggio is modest bird of discreet plumage compared with Valla, Salutati, Niccoli, Bruni, Petrarch, etc. (pp. 115ff), but also against  “Saint” Thomas More (pp. 227ff) and the “heretic” Giordano Bruno (pp. 233ff). Swerve reads like an introductory-level Hall of Fame of noted intellectuals for lay readers who might enjoy such introductions. British filmmakers such as Peter Greenaway and particularly Derek Jarman have given us fetching variation games of such corruption in high places in the time of the Renaissance as an indirect, aesthetic “creative anachronistic” way of critiquing their own immediate society (Thatcher Britain mostly in the case of the latter). The normality of Greenblatt has nothing of the marginality of Jarman and it shows in their Anglo infatuation with the Renaissance, and yet there is a difference between New England and England, and I pick the latter aesthetically and politically without shadow of a doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swerve away from a dominant horizon, say Christianity, into a supposedly more tolerant polytheism or paganism of “cultural diversity,” or a more drastic “a-thetic” atheism of small particles in eternal motion? Hypothetically, yes, perhaps in relation to the Italian letrado, at least according to the version recreated in Swerve, but mostly to fall hundred of years later into the modernity of the natural sciences at least according to our main interpreter. But who is doing the deviation? The space of literature –unlike say, politics, religion, law, economy– is meant to be this kind of attenuated belief system that theoretically allows for the greater coexistence and flexibility of cultural modalities, but really? (“[n]or was [Poggio] drawn to the theological, medical or legal tomes that were the prestigious tools of the professional elites,” p. 17). Richard Rorty, a philosophical presence I feel hovering over Swerve, would have gladly agreed with this deflation move, the attenuation of sharp-elbow and pugnacious belief systems and hard-hitting epistemologies. There is a feeling of atonement, even abasement (p. 106), no abjection in Swerve, which I connect with the narrator’s voice. It is a gesture of infinite arrogance, all epistemologies duck and cover, or of calculated modesty, no big deal, the literary humanities of historical dispositions, one cultural modality among others, no big disruption of the modern world as we know it, but corroboration and ornamentation through exotic landscapes, of our native presumptions of knowledge production; hence, perhaps, an easy toleration of intellectual life in the home of the brave. Greenblatt’s “literature” appears a bit the pretty, if modest textual time-travel container of a foreign belief system downcast from other more magnificent pyramids and cathedrals of knowledge production and ceremonial rituals, made native. Our native Greenblatt brings such foreign humanities in dialogue with other native late humanists but with the findings of the natural sciences. At least this happy “naturalism” appears so to some late humanists such as Greenblatt (I doubt very much he would qualify himself thus in mass-media venues since the “humanities” or the “human sciences” are not intelligible markers). Swerve away from Christianity into Judaism and Islam? This is left untouched, except for the identification of the author’s Jewish background of the mother (p. 3), which makes him, I suppose, a secular Jew, but there is no affirmative identity politics. He does not need it. Swerve from capitalism? Now, that is heavy stuff. And you bet your retirement-plan money that Swerve includes no vast vistas of the Renaissance that you might be curious to find in Wallerstein’s world-system approaches, despite the big-history approach that covers nonetheless from ancient Greece to US academy in the new century. The immediate American circumstance is left untouched except for the pages in the preface: discreet, too discreet to the point of zero disclosures of any significance. Call it the personal touch of an evanescent subjectivity that will nonetheless fly unimpeded and vigorously over centuries of European history and across the Atlantic to land in the particular self-definition of the father of the nation. The father figure is absent in the preface and there is still filial piety in relation to the unnamed woman, the mother figure, showing “[the author] a vein pulsating in her neck and, taking my finger, mak[ing] me feel it for myself, the sign of her heart dangerously racing” (p. 3). It does make sense to think of Swerve as compensatory male-only intellectual genealogy to the making of a minimalist ethics to assuage pangs of intuition of mortality, since Lucretius is introduced as a “profound, therapeutic mediation on the fear of death” (p. 3). And without putting into question the wisdom of stoic Romans not necessarily averse to moderate pleasures, the majority vote of the modern world in 2011 does not go atheistic, but instead the way of the great monotheistic religions, holding less sway for our author, as it did for the already mentioned Richard Rorty and I put myself in relation to this theoretical minority atheism against the vast majority in the immediate American circumstance and beyond. It is not uncommon to read in the papers self-definitions of America being a very religious country versus the more secular Europe.

The attenuation of the hold of religious belief is accompanied by the minority practice of the renaissance of a certain atheistic antiquity accordingly. Greenblatt accepts the secularization of modernity with aesthetic letters bearing witness of such continuity. And yet the majority claims of the natural-science substance of “modernity” (always already a euphemism for capitalism) anticipated in this old-Greek-and-old-Latin minority position (pagan belief system, even nihilism, of the extreme individualism in late capitalism, perhaps?) is one grotesque way of universalizing a certain Europe –still boutique, high-culture, “white” Europe– without ever entering into genuine dialogue with old philological scholarship attacking such reductive gesture on epistemological, social and political grounds. There is debt of older scholarship (Karl Lachmann and Lauro Martines, with Trevor Dadson covering foreign territories such as Spain, pp. 300, 301, 306). The line of attack is the generality of the assumption that the modernity of the whole wide world agrees with the individual belief system of the author. This is, in som scrupulous language, egotism and egocentrism and perhaps megalomania, riding the particularity or specificity at hand and it is not difficult to see how such disposition can find mirrors of self-recognition in a society of extreme individualism. See the appeal of cultural mobility? And what other kind of content do you expect to find in a society with no fastidiousness for time divisions and geography boundaries? Swerve wants to function well –also financially well as far as books do so– in such a society of rapid movement, built-in discontinuity and marvelous impermanence.

 

There is a certain coiling in on oneself, a withdrawal symptom in the individuation process that brings history to the smallest common denominator, the hypothetical reconstruction of ideas in the mind of historical characters and the relative de-emphasis on the larger collective forces of energy and tension. Call it also by the more negative name of de-socialization: “It is rather the experience of withdrawing inwardly from the press of the world –in which he himself was so ambitiously engaged –and ensphering (sic) himself in a space apart. For Poggio, that experience was what it meant to immerse himself in an ancient book: “I am free for reading” (p. 155). So, individual practice of reading  and writing and there is no Chartierian reconstruction of reading practices. Call it the official ideology of liberalism: individualism (Lippman would oppose the two camps, “communalism” versus individualism, while lining up with the latter, and Greenblatt would surely hold hands with him). The universe imagined is the universe of atoms, monads, individual pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, pixels in the digital image, dollar bills moving inside the financial pipelines of global capitalism, the combination of musical note and silence, the single brush stroke on a canvas… You may refresh your knowledge of Gestalt psychology about the whole being larger than the sum of the parts. Swerve clings to flexible particularism rather than synthesis or wholeness, with or without the becoming modern of the world in relation to the survival of the Epicurean-Lucreatian strand. I miss the larger patterns, other figures around such choices and greater costellations in pre-Socratic times, Roman times, Renaissance times, Americna Enlightenment times. I wish I had had less abbreviation of the historical account with which Greenblatt wants to defend a favorite meaningfulness.

I can think of two recent museum experiences in relation to this minimalism of vision of a historical society, present and past. The painting by Chuck Close titled “Paul IV” (oil on canvas) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. And I suppose that other works by Close will also work in this regard. There is a certain antiquarianism in the oil painting of the artist’s own photography of the face of a person and the pursuit of the smallest painting unit to be taken in from up close and from the distance. Swerve works better at close distance, even point-blank range, without wanting to provide larger vistas beyond the face of the individual characters selected against the massive geographies and chronologies involved. The reductive operation is clear, individuals “jump” to the natural-science level of the smallest particles of “things as they are” and to larger collectivies in negotiation and turmoil. Readers are brought down to the abstract level of the atoms of modernity. And the second aesthetic parallel about the intense privatization of existential experience is Joseph Cornell’s “Weather Satellites” (1965) at the Whitney Museum in New York City. I feel the proximity between Greenblattian particularlism, the “ensphering,” and such aestheticized exacerbation of a private universe. I suppose that other works by Cornell will also work well in this regard. I chose this one because it is linked to an eccentric and intensely reclusive Emily Dickinson, the museum context speaks of the renowned poem “A Route of Evanescence.” The cube cutouts relate to the actress Maria Taglioni who liked to keep ice on her jewel box. We have artificial ice, jewel, humming birds, ephemerality, estrangement from the very idea of a commonwealth. Everything about it speaks of the vulnerability of individual experience (Greenblatt speaks of the volatility of intellectual life in contemporary America). The depiction of individual characters in Swerve has some of this precarious quality. And one feels this is not about one of these guys in particular, but about the transmission device that moves our flimsy “cultural” interest of lay reader from one to another, no one of them is permanent house of being, to put it thus, we are not dealing with “great thinkers” by any stretch of the imagination,  and they are not caught convincingly in the cogs of the wheels of (institutional, historical) background not worth going into in some detail, apparently. What remains in me of this Renaissance reconstruction is the evanescence of individual pursuits, but also the evanescence of the writing that builds story-telling in the fictionality of the “perhaps” and the past-perfect conditional form of the might have been by the omniscient narrator. The transplanting and stitching of Epicurus and Lucretius and others by Greenblatt using the needle and thread of Poggio Bracciolini reminds me of Cornell’s idiosyncratic cutouts inside the controlled space of the famous boxes. We can compare the controlled cultural environment of Swerve (potboiler for lay readership with the Renaissance-adventure theme) with Cornell’s boxes and yet there is in the former the “neo-wilsoniansim” of a universal modernity with no explicit boundaries. Call the disposition metaphysical, or transcendental if you wish, even providential, despite the profession of professional secularism, since we are supposed to arrive –and safely so– at cumulative, modern certantities. The moving, almost pathological beauty in Cornell’s art lies on the other hand in the fact of its immanence making universal claims not only impossible, but undesirable. Mutatis mutandis: this one of my main critiques of Swerve. The idiographic sciences do not have to feel the need to go nomothetic procedure and generate one big theory of the entire universe (a few literary critics will remember the moment of the “theory” of Latin American literature, which typically came down to one author proposing his reading of a certain totality following a favorite path of the road over others). Swerve appears to inhabit a universe of smithereens with the emphasis on the latter portion, the fragmentation. The smithereens may remain scattered across  the floor of history –or histories?– as one has found them at the beginning of the new century: broken bits and pieces of inherited intelligibilities and perhaps our ancestors were wiser than us in bringing them together into some kind of synthetic togetherness. There is no guarantee that we are wiser than they were, certainly not in the business of foreign letters in the humanities in the home of the brave. The synthetic singularity, American-style, of “modernity” of the whole wide world, which is here not explicitly acknowledged as capitalism, is a very silly thing to say publicly or privately, particularly if you style yourself a careful and detailed humanist who pays close attention to your favorite idiographic moments of intellectual pleasure, and Greenblatt is clearly one of these humanists, trust me on this one. Perhaps for that very reason, I do not wish to endorse the main thread of modernizing impulse in his argumentation via individualization of ideas against the underdeveloped march, but also clash of civilizations, cultures, societies and groups.

This is a portion of a longer piece.  Any comments? Get in touch, fgh2173@gmail.com