Archive for September 2012

Do “Digital” and “Humanities” Go Well Together?: A Virilian Reflection.

Do “Digital” and “Humanities” Go Well Together?: A Virilian Reflection.

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

 

 

It is often forgotten that intelligence, however vigorous, cannot by itself get its own sense of direction. It cannot therefore by itself arrive at true technical discoveries. By itself, it does not know how to select which ones among infinite things of invention, and therefore gets lost among infinite possibilities. It is only inside an entity where intelligence, serving an imagination that is not technical, but engaged in the creation of vital projects, that the technical capacity may come into being (Ortega y Gasset)[1].

 

Introduction: About the Not Knowing of the Doing of the Humanities.

London is as good a place as any to come out and say it: I do not know what it means to do the humanities anymore. I do not know what I am doing here, or there, or what that “humanities thing” does, what good comes out of it, for others and myself. I am not been deliberately paradoxical or humorously facetious. I mean it, this not-knowing, that will not go away in the course of this writing or find a good clearing and shining light in the pedagogic situation increasingly privatized and cut-off, commodified and virtualized. What is it that “we” (those in the liberal-arts institutional locations, the label of the  “humanities” is not typically used in the US) do, exactly? Are we willing to don this funny old hat in public in some official ceremony? Is it a matter of providing basic literacy in relation to textual layering? Contextual sociology of comparative textualisms? Is the humanities the “content,” or perhaps a certain disposition, but of what kind?, that travels through a variety of formats, typically in textual and book form, increasingly less so and increasingly visual, that get to be instrumentalized, recontextualized and resocialized inevitably also in a variety of ways? Yet, how exactly is this handling happening in the exceedingly shifty and mutable context of American institutions within “market democracies” or “liberal democracies,” as the official rubrics have it (the name “capitalism” sounds mostly accusatory to American native ears and it is accordingly avoided, publicly)? What attenuated role do the humanities play inside and outside educational setting now in ways that are inspirational and distinctive against more assertive formulations in the past (in the American setting, think of Charles Beard, James H. Breasted, the president-scholar Woodrow Wilson undergoing a revival of sorts)? How do we know what we (claim to) know in relation to cultural artefacts of all kinds in our times of evaporations of canons and traditions? So, this uncertainty must linger in “us” at least in the US (the plural form, the “we,” always the salutary, desiderative excess of any one individual predicament, to be sure), and perhaps others will be less uncertain in other places, with or without computing tools. And the mounting suspicion is that a tool is never just a tool that necessarily strenghtens our knowledge of the world, past and present, but something potentially substantive and mutational of social relations and the very understanding of knowledge production as well, and that we should accordingly pay some care and attention to it. Hence, the initial provocation is that of the irrelevance of the humanities, with or without institutionalities built in their defense, but how honestly? There will be no comfortable answers here, also in relation to the initial question included  in the title of this piece. If the label of the humanities –soft, weak, minor– is anything sustainable or meaningful at all anymore, and this is a big “if,” in a global society under naturalized capitalism, particularly with the concern on the immediate circumstance of a convulsive US society in the early decades of the 21st century, it is surely a (happy) thing for the (happy) few, a minority endeavor, a limited engagement, typified as a “minor” or a “major” in a double major side by side a non-humanities discipline of stronger social recognition, and I am thinking of the major in “Spanish” in particular. Hence, the thesis is that the humanities function as ornamentalism within the culural good of “education,” as it is pursued by consumers and customers “shopping around,” as the term has come to be used naturally. The customer is always right, right?, at least in a consumer society and at least on this side of the Atlantic “education” institutions are typically labeled “not for profit,” in a society in which structurally everything is for profit. So, some critical inquisition into this exceptional, and indeed false, insularity would be appropriate. One may put forth the hypothesis of sociability as the main social function of education sectors allowing and preventing access and recognition and the sociability of their own specific social strata inside an increasingly stratified (American) society. A bachelor’s degree is a basic identification card in a country with no official identification cards, another name for the supposed ideal of literacy, or decoding of cultural products increasingly in accelerated engagements. Is “foreignness” then the outsourcing assignation mechanisms of institutional duties currently under increasing privatization of social relations theoretically dedicated to “not-for-profit knowledge” endeavors? Yet, what do these exceptional enclaves with special taxation status mean in relation to society at large? Clearly a rethinking of the terminology is needed, particularly when the figure of the national university does not exist any more and the privates dominate the education market share (state intervention of course takes place in handfuls of these private universities, typically the Ivy League institutions, but not exclusively). The wish in these pages is to generate some alertness, if not critical intelligence, about these terms in quotation marks that are not obvious, easy and necessarily benign items to carry always in your back pockets. Will digital modalities help finessse, buttress, take further away, or instead make obsolete and dismantle “textuality,” for example, which is the suspicion that gets aroused daily inside the classroom practice, but also outside? The interrogation of these uncertainties wants to signal above all that something is happening to the network of sociosymbolic relations:  “we” in the “minor” disciplines in the (foreign) humanities will not lose what has not already been lost and the writing tries to emphasize a certain bell-tolling with no nostalgias of a better time and place, if only to focus more sharply on our global dire straits that can perhaps synthesize as “illiberal inhumanities.” What if the vital core of the humanities is empty?, an unnerving question certainly, and these are unnerving times of belligerence that transcend the fate of a disciplinary knowledge that may be two centuries old. So, a reformulation to the initial hypothesis could go like this: a certain nihilism of subject matter, or content, always already inhabits the humanities, hence the perpetual self-questioning, and the certainty that this “emptiness” does not go against mainstream liberal ideology of content-free exchanges among theoretically equal parties sharing the same space for a fixed and short timeframe (Virilio will dramatize the disastrous nihilism of scientific materialism, the desertification taking place in the natural sciences without a conscience as quintessential knowledge of digital empire, as we will soon see). The humanities are tolerated by universities currently in dire straits and this is an ominous  sign of the times at least since the 1960s (I have Marcuse’s critique of pure tolerance in mind). So, if the second term in the initial question is disappearing, the first term, the “digital” modality, will be approached from a Virilian standpoint. The idea is to maintain the interrogation via key elements embedded in the arresting exploration provided by the French intellectual. I do not know if Virilio has anything inspirational to say about the survival of the humanities in the digital format (his vision of aesthetics is rather bleak). Yet, the digital challenge is ever present and its impact touches on all kinds of disciplinary knowledge practices undergoing a fundamental mutation. The recent  University of Disaster (2010, originally published in French in 2007) will be the platform of observation that will not afford us a comfortable utopia. One brusque synthesis: the apparently unstoppable acceleration of timespaces of social relations embedded in a certain mindlessness of “technicity,” to use Heidggerian language, is part and parcel of such mutation of content and form, if not function, of institutional life devoted to knowledge production. I know I will not doing justice to the Virilian intelligence that I still find intensely, seductively unsettling in the end (in the concluding pages, I will try to provide some limits to these seductions). It is not an easy endeavor to come to terms with Virilio’s prose –non-narrative, non-sociological, non-ethnographic, epigrammatic, parable-like at times, aphoristic, lyrical and prophetic other times–  in ways that your best efforts make it into a totalizing narrative to be delivered in some mood-neutral manner as though the apocalypse had others in other planet in mind, and not us (Virilio’s semantic field is that of loss, disappearance, irruption, decay). The thetic quality of this writing points in the direction of a non-thetic plus-ultra liquidation of meaning, and the issue of axiology, or evaluation, looms large accordingly (more about this later). I would like not to let go of the also old-fashioned term of “philosophical,” a label of precious little circulation in the US, if only in the sense of coming to terms, ever so slightly, with Virilian ways of going about knowing the world in its process of mutation, and approaching the grounds of the merely historiographical establishing of facts, again in Heideggerian language, but never staying only there. I announce four main themes: technological determinism, the crisis of the natural sciences and a phenomenological return, the occasional adoption of an Old Testament prophetic voice, and the possibly frutiful juxtaposition between our main author and Jean Baudrillard, another foreign name to add to these explorations.

 

Two deviations before getting there. One is to notice in passing the brutal inequality of the English / Spanish relations, particularly in the context of this conference titled “Exploring the Archive in the Digital Age” taking place in London (6-8 May 2010), mostly put together by Spanish and Spanish American Studies representatives at King’s College (are other environments so open to return the favor to Spanish and Spanish American Studies interventions?). Irrespective of the European or American conditioning of both signs, “English and Spanish,” the Calibanesque configuration of the latter term, “Spanish,” is not to be doubted. And I am still willing to mark such relationship against those who are happy to take it for granted. Humanities-type “Spanish” is a bit like doing paperwork at the Foreign Office, and one can only speculate what good the non-foreign dimension of the whole nationalistic endeavor will entail[2]. Are we going to stay put in this assigned box of the “foreign humanities” (read: language, literature and culture) and the area-studies format of relative (un-)importance and ornamental escort service to meaningfulness and importance happening elsewhere? No. And this rebelliouness is easier said than done satisfactorily. The second deviation has to do with philosophical lucidity. Two items: one by José Ortega y Gasset and the other one by Martin Heidegger, two more foreign names in relation to the technical matter that cannot be ever more pressing: “Meditación de la Ténica” of the Madrid philosopher delivered in 1933 in Santander, and later printed in the newspaper La Nación in Buenos Aires in 1939. What a prodigious decade that was for the Madrid philosopher in the ominous 1930s! And the lecture series “Question Concerning Technology” of the German philosopher delivered in the post-WWII, occupied Germany in 1950 and 1955 and printed in 1954 (my English edition is of 1977). This is not the typical apparatus that one finds in technical (computer, digital) environments, ever so reluctant, if not mindless of their relationship to the essence of modern (digitatl) technology (I am not aware of Virilio directly incorporating either thinker in his writings)[3]. But perhaps there is an increasing social awareness around the so-called “free-access” movement  in information circles, and also around the figure of the hacker. This second deviation wants to highlight uncommon reflexivity about technicity that is still ahead of us. I will include some of these philosophical insights in the course of this Virilian meditation. There is also the final unsettling interview of Heidegger (The Spiegel, 1966, “Only a God Can Save Us,” published in 1976 after Heidegger’s death), in which “technicity” is the most profound characterization, the core,  of contemporary culture. Heidegger explains the moment of the second half of the 20th century as the one in which the essential ground of the disciplines has become dead, and its consequence is a disintegrated multiplicity only held together through institutionality. Technicity dislodges and uprootes man from earth (home, tradition or collectivity), and cybernetics now takes the place of philosophy. Historically for Heidegger, National Socialism signified the “achievement of a satisfactory relationship to the essence of technicity. [Although] those people [the National Socialists] were too pooly equipped for thought to arrive at a really explicit relationship to what is happening today [Sept. 23, 1966] and has been underway for the past 300 years.” Technicity represents the extreme logic of modernization and the opaque Heideggerian vocabulary of enframing, destining and danger can be used politically in a variety of ways: the “inner truth and greatness of this movement [early Nazism],” lies in the perfect synthesis between technological modernization and the notions of “home” and “tradition,” from where everything essential and of great magnitude has [ever] arisen” (Richardson’s translation, 45, 57, 61). One must pause at this point in relation to this great thinker against such momentous devastation in the last century, and mark the precious little reflexivity that typically accompanies the modernization-theory paradigm, perhaps the strongest frame of intelligibility that we have inherited consciously or not, and this is a fenomenally complex theme for another time and place. I still feel, without yet being able to go any further in the feeling, that the cybernetic world exacerbates this dominant frame of universal/izing intelligibility, mutating the form, the content and perhaps even the social function of previous historical models, such as ethnic fidelity, national imaginary, religion, class affiliations, “culture,” political ideals (there is a capitalistic mesmerization that will be addressed in concluding pages, also detectable in Virilio’s technocentrism). “Community” (historically the words socialism, communism, impossibly to articulate publicly in the US in the new century) always already become problematic in digital  / virtual domains: “whatever that is,” as someone said in public some time ago, and the abstraction of it is terribly truthful of the tearing apart of inherited social ligaments:

 

 

The Third major theme running through Hobsbawm’s account of the last half of the half century is the ‘disintegration of the old patterns of human social relationships, and with it, incidentally, the snapping of links between the generations, that is to say, between past and present’[Age of Extremes, p. 15]. The socio-cultural comparator is not so clear-cut sa the material or lethal, but the emphasis of the narrative falls on the “crisis decades” of the seventies and eighties, as the time when mortal ties that had given immemorial cohesion to human life –of family, birthplace, work, religion, class: solidarities of our ethical substance –crumbled most decisively. The result has been the spread of “an absolute a-social individualism” whose psychological costs have increasingly found compensation in the twisted collective fixations of identity politics. Here, certainly, it is more plausible to assume an overall uni-directional development than in the case of economic growth or violent death. Since, resonably enough, Hobsbawn dates the inception in the West of a cultural revolution against every known form of tradition to the sixties, it follows that the wider impact of this transformation must fall in the subsequent decades[4].

 

 

I want to emphasize the virtual exacerbation of the past-and-present intergenerational fracture. Could it possibly be that these historical frames of intelligibility are on their way to becoming obsolete when the installation of digitality / virtuality gets consolidated? One can see moments of exhilaration in the relativization of all old past forms, kept at some playful distance and away from any telluric overdetermination, and yet sustainable are these new forms? Or is this mutation away from all predictabilities something that we are not yet ready to address intellectually, emotionally?:

 

 

[The] revolution in the relativist point of view, and with it, or view of the world, far from meaning progress in discrimination, has totally disqualified the primary importance of the fixed point, in favour of a vanishing ahead of all points (pixels). It thereby brings on a gigantic optical allusion that will soon affect the geopolitics of nations, inducing the five continents to give up their geophysical reality to the advantage of a Sixth Continent, this one virtual…

 

 

With all the confusion in feelings of belonging and with the drift of the five continents that make up geographical space towards the sixth continent of cyberspace suddenly the morphological stability of reality is threatened with collapse. If it goes down, it will not only drag culture down with it, but also  –equally—the most durable reality there is: the reality of the orientation, not of some “hypnotic” vision now as in the past, but of the very fact of being-in-the-world and the rationality that goes with it… [w]e can only too easily divine the traumatism that awaits us when we are faced with this TERRA INCOGNITA thrown up by a spatiotemporal exile, which the loss of art of seeing and of knowing belonging to phenomenology, will be doubled by the loss of the art of conceiving essential to our being there [italics and capital letters in the original] (University of Disaster, 63, 86).

 

 

Digital modulations do not tolerate, durabilities, fixities or resistant identities of any kind, also in relation to long-term frames of sustainable referentiality of any kind. Disconnectivity is found unacceptable and “terroristic” modality of being, for example in the strategic thinking of contemporary military strategists such as Thomas P.M. Barnett. Systemic digitality thus appears to be in the antipodes of the metaphysical essential, the “enacious persistance throughout of all that happens, in Heideggeresque. Technicity in its dominant, everyday, normal functioning is not only anti-ontological, but more radically de-ontological, the de facto if not de iure liquidation of ontological thinking, about the type of questioning of the essences of modern technology exemplified by the German thinker in the uncomfortable political position previously made explicit. Metaphysics is thus put in the closet of history in the belligerent imminence of a totalitarian here-and-now of the digital / virtual that does not subject itself to plebiscites. Technicity makes of “history” the previous format of obsolescence,  the previous versionto  the current model, the “classic” precedent or platform, the “old form” of what is active, current and the “off,” the non-digital to the “on.” The new digital continent –or planet?– of digitality supplants all five others (America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania, with the negligible forgetfulness of Antartica)[5]. Virilio uses the language of loss or lack. Are we willing to endorse it? Will the new generations use it too in relation to the genuinely mutational happening to “our” being-in-the-world, imploding in a spatiotemporal “exile?.” It is as though we were irremediably losing all our possible “grounds of being” amid shorter and faster exchanges among increasingly “anti-philosophical” practitioners unwilling to consider thoughtful alternatives (more about Virilio’s historiographic modality soon).

 

 

Virilio underlines big-mass drifting, estrangement of the very feeling of belonging, the widening incomprehension of an excessive series of events that cannot be processed intellectually or emotionally (i.e. trauma), the apparent framelessness of epistemic endeavors, the paradoxical loss of seeing in an age of saturated visibility, of “dragging (durable) culture down…” Yet, there is an emotion-neutral (d)enunciation in Virilio’s unrelenting prose: no despair, no panic, no conservative retreat into the forms already known, although there is a “return” in relation to phenomenology as told soon. There is a serene sense of alarm in the coming to terms with what he would call the “morphological irruption” of new timespace forms hitting citiscapes and our inherited conventionalities of them (Lost Dimension, pp. 9-68). There is a fast-forward science-fiction quality to the reality-effect of Virilio’s writing that appears to want to be a kind of “dirty realism,” as soon as the faithful reader slows down the reading and is willing to parse the eminently paratactic simple sentences (the characters most quoted are typically state officials caught in flagrante delito professing some kind of phantasmatic Orwellian world of total control against the void left behind by martyrs such as Dietrich Bonhoffer or mythical figures coming out of biblical sources). It is not difficult to have the illusion of bird-eye’s view of city-landscapes populated by blind masses manipulated a totalitarian officialdom that games the system time and again to its advantage (as in Batman series, there is a thin line between officialdom and paramilitary corruption). Isn’t this intense, fast-paced, eminently ephemeral and strictly mobile conditioning of Being exceptionally American? How do we feel about emphasizing the previous adverb? Exceptionalism or ordinariness?  Is this ordinariness to be deplored or celebrated, or neither depending on the immediate circumstances? Perhaps Americanness is the quintessence of “technicity” as previously rendered, with or without the relatively short history of immigration and the dumping of all other world cultures into the mix, and their thinning out and streamlining of lighter forms to make them fit  as effortlessly as possible into popular consumer culture[6]. Is this “American Dream” what awaits us? Baudrillard has spoken of the individual conquest of an unimodal, passionless irony with everything that has taken place before his American travels (Forget Foucault, p. 82). Any there any alternatives? Virilio does not offer any and we will see his “way out” soon. With or without “disaster,” and we will soon see what the term means in the Virilian universe, there is still reluctance to let go of reflexivity, also when the university setting is not left intact. Are the humanities still the conditional timespaces of social interaction where and when reflexivity happens against the despicable practice of pure toleration to be understood in Marcusean terms? The initial question included two uneven portions –the thinning element of the “humanities,” and the increasingly totalitarian formatting of virtuality / digitality. It is already impossible to think about the possibility of the humanities without the intersection of computing tools, the impact of which the two great philosophers aforementioned, could perhaps only imagine. Such togetherness (digital humanities) is up for grabs, how could it not be?, still in the disastrous occurrence of the majoritarian inhumanities, at least according to the Virilian vision.

 

 

University of Disaster.

The invitation is accordingly to consider “disaster” inside the official houses of knowledge production (would our micro-knowledge practices still be willingly wish to cling to the old name of university, in the etymological vicinity of universality or totality or medieval disposition towards a Summa Theologica?, the earliest OED reference is 1300). I hasten to recommend to the inquisitive, unconventional minds out there the French intellectual of Italian origin, Paul Virilio (born in Paris in 1932), a truly demanding “anthropologist” of communication technologies, and all predictable labels die the good death with him[7]. There is an instability of disciplinary knowledge that is not necessarily a bad thing to fix, not even for the minor disciplines such as “Spanish.” Let us keep the literalism or positivity of meaning, typically attached to the bienpensante or the “politically correct” institutional disposition, at some distance (think of language use in branding, “philosophy” and “banana republic” for cloths, the calculated informality of “google,” “yahoo,” “twitter” for digital / virtual modalities etc.). Some of this destabilizing operation is at work here engaging Virilio in the vicinity of the generic theme of the “digital humanities” seemingly betraying assigned boundaries (within Lacanism, Zizek speaks of traversing “fantasies” as playful treatment as a way of gaining a modicum of distance, besides having “fun,” 510)[8]. There is something worthwhile about the denaturalization of language production, and the expansion of strangement say, that at least will ideally keep most if not all nativist dispositions at bay, if only in relation to clear-cut demarcations of “foreignness,” typically situated –and subordinated—in area-studies precincts[9]. Virilio –someone who does not do assigned area studies– will also help us violate some of this bigotry of low expectations. I wish to focus on Virilio’s text The University of Disaster (Polity, 2010, original French publication in 2007), inside five sections (Intuition, The Waiting Room, Photosensitive Inertia, The University of Disaster, and Revelation). All sections have two chapters except the last one. The focus is on the conditioning of knowledge production and university life in the Virilian universe, and one has to learn to welcome a modicum of healthy discomfort that will not go away.

 

 

The apparently unstoppable acceleration of time and the violent compression of geographies implode the notion of reality. Reality becomes virtual, digital reality, becoming increasingly intolerant of other and older modalities of being non-virtual and non-digital. Think of a Hollywood action movie increasingly moving at a faster pace among increasing number of explosions in detriment of quality of acting, plot, language and texture against old, foreign, non-Hollywood production: this trajectory is Virilio’s natural habitat and most likely ours as well, increasingly so (think about the more static sense of British usage of “film” as opposed to the standard American usage of “movie,” how “photography” is increasingly adding the redundance of “still photography” losing ground to video motion, think of the progressive retreat of “painting” in relation to more “dynamic” or “performative” (art) spaces, the proliferation or fragmentation of audiovisual channels, the personalized interactivity with the technology, the cornering of textuality by film and “culture,” the debunking of the traditional format of the “book,” etc.). These are not simply change of format. Something mutational is taking place and perhaps one safe thing to say is that the impulse to acquire a sustainable narrativity that may help us put these phenomena together (world, cosmos as such) has thinned out, if not disappeared altogether (Lyotard is the name associated with this epistemic demise of colossal narratives almost in the manner of whales found dead by the beachline for no apparent reason). Perhaps cybernetics is one of the names of the diversion that does without the need for big coherent narrations that previous generations appeared to have and we don’t. Or do we? We inhabit a culture of speed, and speed is one of Virilio’s abstract core concepts to bear in mind constantly. In Heideggerian terms, our  “culture,” or modality of being, is (American) technicity, “our” institutional “house of being,” the corporate world, with no (philosophical) ground: business culture for which there is never enough time and in which “time is money.” Put it in other terms: our (permanent, static) being has dramatically become, at least since WWII, one of (impermanent, dynamic) becoming with debilitated attempts to capture a definite origin, cause or result. No causality and no teleology: immanence with no apparent desire for a(ny) transcendental or other frame of foreign intelligibility. We do not know where we come from or where we are going, and we must be going somewhere since we cannot apparently stop, much less stop to think about where we are going. One may ask: who keeps the institutional memory in increasingly trasient timespaces? Ortega y Gasset and Heidegger’s questions have disappeared from everyday practice of technology also from your everyday liberal-arts classroom setting, as though these old hats were an embarrassment of intellectual riches that we cannot afford anymore. Is Virilian presence any stronger?

 

 

Time and spatial categories must be thought indelibly together: timespaces[10]. In the Virilian vision, timespaces are undergoing accelerations and compressions. It is from the standpoing of this (post-)modernity of proud imperial nation (around the 1950s, the post-WWII Cold War moment of superpower visibility) that all other timespaces get re-arranged with or without counter-accounts saying otherwise. This phenomenology hits hard, think American-football hard, the very notion of “history,” as sustainability, or duration, any sense of tradition, let alone piety or veneration as Américo Castro was fond of saying. It used to be that one wished to acquire knowledge, or a tradition, as the collection of meaningful points of certainty, or at least the ramshackle structure, the upholstery of a belief system, or the accummulation of cultural goods acquired with cultivation, or enough time, predictability or tested habit, a (wo-)man of “culture” as old meanings in historical dictionaries still deliver for us. But perhaps this rendering is guilty of an intellectualist, discursive, “conservative,” prejudice towards “high culture” that fails to contemplate the force of unconscious not-knowing lacking a proper narrative, and more dynamic modalities (precisely, the unpretentitious meaning of “culture” is that of modalities of ways of doing things, institutional and informal, even life styles). The current state of uncertainty is perhaps what digitality is reinforcing and isn’t it clear that this is pushing away the traditional humanistic knowledge –not only philologically inspired– bound up with laborious textualism, the older, the better? Is it possible not to have a feeling of turmoil of things in stores with “liquidation” signs on them, of cultural goods on the sliding-scale, also in educational sectors? How could the “absolute a-social individualism” aforementioned find its intelligent ways embedded in the immediate timespace, increasingly the virtual circumstance, as the dear noun of Ortega y Gasset has it, among the smithereens –of family, birthplace, work, religion, class solidarities? Where are the maps, the sign posts, the collective projects? Once upon a historical time, there was the feeling of a sustainable meaningfulness that was put together by this slow-motion gradual acquisition of tested certainties or at least predictable social parameters or more or less stable frames of referentiality that are now less certain. Technology is the (post) modernity, or the “end of history” against which preceding totalizing “medievalisms” or “early modernities” are measured (neo-hegelians are among the ones wanting to rescue something of this totalizing medievalisms, also some postcolonialists firm at provincilizing Europe). Could it be that digitality / virtuality massively upsets these philosophical questions? How to begin to set up boundaries or limits in times of the world wide web? Isn’t the very idea of “boundary” unthinkable in such virtuality? How to begin to address the loosening of social ties, and the absolute a-social individualism, aforementioned? Narrativity qua modality of togetherness, whether in relation to big things or small things, increasingly appears obsolete armature, particularly with the irruption of audiovisuality, and the sudden arrival of digitization and virtualization formatting timespaces in imminent, pan-relational and groundless manner. Here we all do the best we can to keep our bearings. And how good is this best?

 

 

Our “anthropologist” focuses on technology in the quintessential theater of war. His discourse highlights mechanical, technological events of ineludible impact, typically in oppresive environments of surveillance, manipulation and premeditated destruction (war). The Virilian world is harrowing and dystopian with no moments of calm,release  and relief. As mentioned earlier, his is a semantic emphasis on desocialization, disruption, irruption, degradation, loss of old forms into endless instability or mutability of them, as for instance when he explains the definitional changes in relation to “surface” and “dimension” in relation to the space once used to be called “city” (Lost Dimension, pp. 9-27). The reader will have the feeling that the ground under his feet is gone. This vertigo is the attempt to catch the status of the (fleeting) contemporary. The Virilian account has an aphoristic composition peppered wtih numerous neologisms, oftentimes capitalized. And this will force one to puzzle over the logic of the aphorism, a favorite Baroque modality of enunciation, as in Baltasar Gracián for example, a kind of non-narratival intuitive illumination that is not the most popular form in our contemporaneity (perhaps commercial Americana is the closest resemblance?). Where does this predilection for the aphorism come from? Is it after a synthetic, integrative tendency?

 

 

The writing does not fail to convey a “cut-and-paste” feeling of relative disorientation in which paragraphs and sections can be moved around without major damage to the overall, elastic structure of meaningfulness and of feeling conveyed by the “whole text” of small dimensions, easy portable let us say, and imprecise boundaries. It is as though there was a feeeling of imploding fragmentation continuously at work in the manufacture of the writing that does not cling to the thetic dimension of language. That is why I hesitate to call the Virilian account a “narrative.” It is as though his abbreviated descriptiions were unafraid to approach de-narrativization already happening socially. I would say that Virilio’s ways of knowing the contemporary world –displaying a thin engagement with anything happening earlier, particularly before the 19th century outside Euro-America– deprioritizes the concreteness of social relations, places them in the background so to speak, as though social agents were appendages to the latest, cutting-edge technological avatars. Big frames of intelligibility, what I like to call historicity, threatened by technicity, lose “ground” of belief and impact among collectivities: this could be one thesis that will not leave us alone. Does technicity synthesize social relations better than anything else available to us? Is digitality qua dematerialization and individualization of social relations the increasingly totalitarian, quintessential cultural modality of being contemporary? Everything that’s solid melts into the air? There are no warm visions of collective gatherings in Virilian prose. Society appears amorphous, easily manipulatable unrebellious mass receiving Orwellian messages from uncharismatic state officials. The Virilian analysis cuts across seemingly coming from nowhere. There is no insurgency, no community of hackers subverting the system either. No egalitarian forms of sociability. We “fall” so to speak individually accordingly, holding invisible hands with Virilio against no recognizable historicity of time-honored forms (we appear to inhabit already the traumatic psychological costs of the crumbling of immemorial cohesion to human life). It is as though society were a fiction of social relations generating “white noise” –also in the sense of Delillo’s novel– to the inevitable happening of technicity. There is a technocentric quality to Viriilian vision that does not become, as far as I can see, technophilia, although there is a certain fascination with war and communication technologies. There is no technophobia either, despite the insisting semantics of disaster as though this fascination with technology was always the stronger force taking us death drive, apocalypse. This is the Virilian situation, seemingly emotionally neutral and intellectually mercurial and unrestrained by conventional arrangement of the university disciplines. There is no one disciplinary path or method, no explicit “emotionalization,” as the recent term has it, no sustainable ethnography of social specificities in any one favorite circumstance. There is no sustainable plot: people do not do things, machines do, or at least in cyborg fashion. The occasional use of the prophetic voice must be imagined in relation to the theoretical possibility of the fracture or the break of the apparent determination of technicity unimpeded by what in the name of what? I think the absence of a force, para-technical if not anti-technical, although there is no luddism, is what gets Virilian thinking going. There is a strong phantasmatic quality to Virilio’s writing that includes very little chronology and precious geographies other than the primary observation platform of the North Atlantic First World big-city landscape: there is a certain neglect of the portrayal of conflicting collectivities with proper names, locations, interests, going at it, despite the fact that Baudrillard says that our author is, unlike him, “very interested in strategic vicissitudes.” I would still maintain that this is not happening in his writings displaying an “anti-humanistic” streamlining of social avatars in non-descript geographical boundaries, chronologies, agents in the subject, object positions, etc. It is as though we had entered a virtualized, post-political landscape of indefinite timespaces. The general climate is one of “conspiracy theory,” for lack of a better word, think of the popular series American television series of the “X Files,” of grand institutional control and invisible discipline and punish (the Pentagon, the media conglomerate). If his platform of observation is French, this is a stand-in for European, wtihin the centrality of the West, yet this is no civilizational accomplishment, but instead “First World,” technological emporium, monopolized by big-institutional US-dominated, industrial-military complex, at least since the 1950s (Second and Third Worlds find occasional reference but of little substance, and perhaps our author would say that this task is for ours to put on the discussion table). Perhaps this impoverished area-studies geography of his knowledge manufacture can invite open criticism. Yet we must all remember that his Europe is no more “cultured, or more “humanistic” or benign, and certainly not more technologically advanced against a background that is “apocalypse now.” Virilian Europe appears to be the post-WWII modernization high point of creation and destruction understood in the Heideggerian terms as previously quoted minus the political synthesis endorsed by the German thinker. There is a diffusionist modernization-theory trajectory assumed here accordingly, and perhaps he would say there is no other way to present things pedagogically, but only initially. His abstract writing conveys an apparently ineluctable modality of increasing global/ized being going the catastrophic trajectory of an apparently unstoppble death drive. This history of the world is more arresting and stronger than it seems “sucking” it (world and history) in with no apparent transcendence out of technological domination. The message: there is something substantial, mutational and arresting, existentially disorienting and genuinely troubling about the world  of computer science inside capitalist market forces, already unmistakably undermining, to name but one dimension, what passes as university knowledge[11]. And yet the adoption of an anti-technical position is not an option. We already inhabit an increasing fragmentation of knowledge practices pressurized by an instantaneity of transmission and perception that is not contained by the conventional divisions of the natural, social sciences and the liberal arts instituted at least in the US in the 1950s. There is something of a reconfiguration of disciplines, we appear to be situated in a kind of “mash-up” of interdisciplinarity with no grounds or narrative and with receding historical, social frames. This is a slow demise with no official ceremonies against the  thinning-out background of big frames of intelligibility fostered by digital technicity with its proliferation of minor discourses (or Babel babble). But sheer volumes of textual language yield to the dominance of audiovisuality. No more master codes, it seems. No more vital cores either, it seems. There is the arrested feeling that no one can inhabit this dematerialization permanently, that this existentialism is not sustainable without some kind of psychic damage. Or are we going for some psychic mutation as well? How to go on without meaningful points of sustainable symbolic referentiality? And yet this is our incresing virtual circumstance. This is where we are: thetic language-identity-container becomes non-thetic flow of identity play seemingly with no limits or boundaries. Is it a total Baroque illusion with no resolutions? The Baroque inspiration does not exist in Virilio but it does exist in thinkers such as Baudrillard, critics such as Neocalabrase and Buci-Glucksmann and 20th century artists. So perhaps there is something worth paying attention to in this saturation of signs, of ornamental excess. Mind you: Virilio is no “conservative” thinker who wants to hold on to some good past that may well resist such onslaught. Quite the opposite: this is a future-oriented disposition on “speed,” one of his favorite concepts, going fast to some catastrophic nowhere. A major force is needed to divert, let alone stop this historical trajectory. There is no (imaginary) alternative landscape in any of the Virilian texts, although one can say that the impulse is latent there, except some occasional minimalism crossing across the blurry demarcation line between technocriticicism and technocratism (the assumption of an occasional prophetic quality is perhaps what keeps the criticism uncivil and unbecoming to any one establishtment). His is still a technocentric world fixated on increasingly sophisticated destruction capabilities and readers will have to deal with this desolate vision in relation to social and thought control. Virilian parataxis builds connections between the monoatheism of an eccentric discrimination of a Global Brain (89), a kind of Alpha 60 in Godard’s Alphaville (1965), the ecological desertification of planet earth (129), corresponding to the imperial doing of putting desert (or barbarism) beyond its borders, but also between the stoic ideal of nothingness in the person of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Franciscan ideal of monastic minimalism (130). There is therefore the insinuation of a desire of stoic, minimalist mood in this rich mode of of semiotic saturation of various timespaces speeding towards a suicidal postmodernity. Virilio accuses the modern sciences of nihilism and here this is no Nietzchean praise. How to inhabit the Virilian house of being? How to get out? With or without intellectualist, discursive prejudices, how do we seek refuge in the apparent homelessness of this lucidity? Do we see any limits to this account that presents a limitless world of technicity modernizing itself in virtual / digital cultural modalities? Will mash-up interdisciplinarity do in furthering alternative visions? An affirmative answer is nowhere to be seen in University of Disaster with the primary focus on the natural sciences. Virilio’s modulated emotionality conveys no fear about the crumbling of the houses of knowledge already under occupation by commercialization and bureaucratization (slow-motion statism of national universities on the European side of the Atlantic and more nimble, unstable short-term, corporate privatization on the American side). Seemingly coming from nowhere, his occasional prophetic voice calls for the radical reform of the (Western-model) University in toto with no ethnographies or blueprints on either side of the Atlantic. His writing is not academic in the conventional sense of sticking quietly to one disciplinary mode while keeping the circle of social survivability intact. Recreating a Cornel Wester’s George-Clintonesque line: our author does not want to “de-odorize the funk.” Let it all hang out! No fig leaves covering the magnificence of old knowledge that leads to “disaster”! Leave the celebrations to the administrators and managers in their controlled environmnets. There is a bit of a “retro” look in Virilio –a bit of a Godardesque 1960s feeling if you wish– in the critical return to the moment of the creation of the nuclear bomb (the Manhattan project) within the context of WWII, fifty years ago. This dramatic success in the natural sciences, so the argument goes, produces the lacks phenomenological conscience. There is an “incredible ethical and philosophhical deficit” (118), and the connection is direct with the Madrid philosopher[12]. Hence Virilio repeats the sense of alarm in relation to the “dangerous (false) securities of the European culture in a historical moment [this is in 1933] of the irruption of barbarism in the world” (1933). Why is Virilio insisting in 2007 on this disastrous science around the  middle of the 20th century? Is this a historical analogy of the future ahead of us? Virilio’s epigrammatic writing does not answer in straight-forward fashion, as though denunciation could only advance obliquely in the double lack of conscience and faithful narratives.

 

 

The supremacy of the audiovisual on the screen over the written word spells disaster for an idea of the university that has passed down to us since the year 1000. And it is easy to see how a statement of this magnitude is easier said than processed. The critical vision is that we inhabit the crisis of the foundations of knowledge structures, and indifference and inertia may only keep the university going strong with increasing irrelevance (Harootunian has spoken forcefully of this automatic pilot implemented in Area Studies with special focus on Asia Studies, mutatis mutandis…). Or is it unintelligent to try to maintain a kind of transcendental institution that wants to cover a big, if not universal picture, as opposed to privatized commodifications away from civic commonalities? The substance of ethics: communal ties. Yet of what kind? There is the mounting feeling that digitality / virtuality, as one modality of technicity, reconfigures dramatically social ties, perhaps we can go as far as use the more intense vocabulary of violation and violence[13]. Where is the vigorous interrogation of these social mechanisms taking place, done comparatively with visions of other social models? The future ahead may go in the direction of monadic nomadism, gathering quickly and dispersing one click away suspending and rearticulating notions of community, belonging, attachment, perhaps following modalities such as facebok. Virilio makes you stare at the possibility of the dematerialization of (emotional, intellectual) attachments, the virtualization of a sustainable geographical proximity or even the logic of linearity. What if prepositions and deictis become obsolete in a post-spatial, post-chronological exchange ruled by the supremely immanent here-and-now against receding, obsolete “classic” backgrounds? Marc Augé, a second French anthropologist, has spoken of the tremendous silence surrounding not only the discipline of anthropology, but of knowledge production in general. I would say we inhabit thick silence about the self-justification, the  desirable sustainability, the apparent pragmatic “groundlessness” of our knowledge endeavors. Virilio is one of the few thinkers who does not hesitate to speak of the emergene of cretinism and obscurantism in our global societies (34), posed against “the Greco-Latin origins of our differetn branches of knowledge” (possessives and deictics make explicit Virilian’s  authorial positionality allowing for a Cassandra disposition). We appear to inhabit a sustained disbelief in the power of reason to deliver what we need to get us out of troubles. It is not clear whether Virilio is presenting the Spanish Baroque author Baltasar Gracián suggesting “divination” as valid historical alternative to the, for him,  wrongful, external, total and disastrous (false) objective viewpoint of the natural sciences exemplified by the English physicist Hawking (more about this soon). But there is something of a skepticism in the powers of reason alone, not to mention the disentanglemetns from the bureaucratic pressures of institutional reason mentioned earlier. Digitiality reinforces a-literacy, let us have the general statement as such,  and the possibility of the reversal is the typicl claim for the survival of the humanities (the desirability of rhetorical skills in argumentative, discourse production, conventionally in relation to the invigoration of a democratic society). Virilio speaks of the unnerving fracture of the conscious and unconscious divide in the brain of each of us (this is a nice port of entry for ideological critiques such as Zizek). And individual volition could only go so far: there is a willful “rendition” of individual responsibility in the finding of knowledge items: Google does the searching for you, Wikipedia does the  “disambiguation” for you, and the GPS in your car will tell you where to go irrespetive of toponyms, road signs, social interactions. I am aware that I am taking each one of these technologies to a perhaps silly extreme to prove the point of the transformation of a certain withdrawal from the Cartesian cogito, the marker of the liberal subject still in our age of increasing de-individualized standardization. But where can this type of inquisitive thinking take place when universities are barely maintaining a differential space that will allow them to generate a critical interrogation of panoramic visions of their societies? Are the universities strong points of reference for global society out there? Do we seek knowledge there when we need it in life avatars? Do we seek ethical ties there? How vigorous is their intercourse in increasingly fractured timespaces with their own national societies, let alone international settings? We appear to be caught in between two undesirables: the European model and the American model. Could we think of the latter as increasingly privatized spaces allowing for a horizontal socialization occupying a certain space along hierarchical structures in an increasingly unequal society? I remember the comment by Richard Rorty that the University years were, simply put, socialization for most students before the “real” life of the workplace, now in a funk, takes them elsewhere for good. Now, two nagging questions: socialization of what kind? And what for? If this is so, knowledge is exposure to cultural artefacts, familiarity with codes of communication and access to social circles in specific spaces alongside class differentials. This is Fukujama’s (liberal) end of history of a thoroughly institutionalized and privatized society of monads engaging with each other “technically” and quickly against no other, more substantial background different from the immediate institutionality (there is the telling use of “technically speaking” in informal American language, meaning “precisely” as though technicity was the sole horizon of meaningfulness, well… precisely). Hence, the “proper” behavior for such as short time is the proper faith of the (cynical) “customer who is always right” (cynical, in the romance-language sense of the word, not in the conventional American English sense either), never wanting of course to intersect publicly with other settings that could do serious damage to the credibility of such immediate institutional circumstance, at least for the time of the affiliation. We are talking the naturalization of deterrence, domestication and silencing of “noise.” Virilio emphasizes precisely this mechanism also in relation to university settings, increasingly isomorphic within privatized, commercialized timespaces, mostly in the aforementioned platform of the transatlantic First World. Virilio speaks of the deterrence of reality and of knowledge –of the disruptive reality of new knowledge– in University timespaces undergoing the same accelerated, commodified and privatized convulsions. Are we misguided in clinging to a transcendentalism or universalism of the university –believing in the etymology so to speak—in another time and place cutting through other, more limited instittutional interests? Isn’t this “humanist” wrongdoing in the age of the normality of anti-foundational post-structuralism, post-1980s, coinciding with no traumas with official, institutional liberalism, at least inside diminished “humanities” sectors of the education platform? Isn’t a certain (liberal) idea of the intellectual attached to this transcendental notion of a vast social exegesis that does not genuinely contemplate tugs of political war among different groups? Isn’t the logical conclusion in the current predicament the substitution of the intellectual figure for the technical expert, and the practitioner or the self-styled pragmatist docilely within the immediate, institutional horizon of pragmatism (again, “intellectual” is not a word one uses publicly in the US, it is loaded with pejorative connotations, which is eloquent testimony of some of the things rendered by critical US sociology, of the Richard Hofstadter and David Riesman type)?[14] Now, one has to pause here with no quick follow-ups.  Why would anyone threaten a specific timespace of interaction when the profit of cultural capital may be round the corner, may be at risk? Using Kuhnian language, why would anyone risk a paradigm shift, the production of crisis, anomaly, disruption, “noise,” inside burocratized, commodified spaces…? Unless there are ways in and out combining various institutionalized timespaces. Perhaps “freedom” is no more no less than the desirable, incremental “reality-simulacrum” play among institutions. Any exteriorities out there? Or do we give up such type of critical thinking altogether?

 

 

Now, conventional users, customers and practitioners in their virtual / digitial fields of immanence will not see Virilio’s evaluation coming: we inhabit a disastrous world in our own lack of conscience (suspension of cause, effect, totality, etc.), and he waits for the possibility of termination, liquidation or “catastrophe” as a sign of regeneration of a centuries-long process of degradation. Let us think of intellectual health as a williful plasticity and openness to lucid metamorphosis. What he means by the use of disaster is, I think, the welcome of the interruption of the unexpected (or chance operations) and of the production of malfunction in timespaces predicated upon the ideal of functionality and efficiency (think of smooth bureaucratic and managerial everydayness, also near your modest humanistic houses of “minor” knowledge production). Without presenting a blueprint, our author wishes a new radical transformation of the status quo. Virilio’s idea of (healthy) knowledge is then close to this idea of the beneficial “out of the blue” irruption that, quite uninvited, challenges oppressive, functional, immanent orthodoxy (technicity can be one of these orthodox names, market liberalism, another). Somehow our author does not want to let go of the theoretical possibility of something outside totalitarian technicity. He wants to maintain the mere idea of a beyond, transcendence not fully captutred by institutionalization processes. Here, there is only the “modern” immanence of the “here-and-now” that zooms in and out at the blink of the eye morphing one image (un-) consciously to the next and off to the next screen increasingly following a fast pace. Virilio wants us to embrace the possibility of deepening the disaster. Think of disaster as short circuit that kicks in reflective language in the (momentary) shutting down of the machine built in with planned obsolescence and allowing the theoretical possibility of comprehension of complex phenomena intellectually, emotionally. Or think of a blackout. Even “terrorism” as the upset of the status quo, totem and taboo, that dares not speak its systemic name, at least conventionally in the US (capitalism). This is our “hell.” Or is this an unacceptable exaggeration you –my dear reader– are not willing to look into?

 

 

Virilio provides a summary critique of the current stage of the sciences without a conscience. In The University of Disaster, there is no conventional tripartite division of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The last ones are the only ones that take his critical attention and they only ones that matter, apparently. They represent the avant-garde of knowledge in the 20th century streamlining into the mechanical arts of cybernetics with the latest development of virtuality / digitality, subverting the knowledge sructures that once were there. It does not appear exaggerated to speak of a revolution of forms of social relaations with strong content-mutational impact following the McLuhanite dictum, the medium is the message (we can perhaps think of Virilio as a more conspiratorial and “mystical” European contemporary continuation of McLuhan). The digital dematerialization of knowledge content establishes some kind of uchronic atopia with no orthodoxies or fixed points, which is celebrated enthusiastically by some. The extreme logic of modernization culminates, according to Virilio, with the atomic bomb discovery shortened by the Manhattan project. The fission of the atom epitomizes the tremendous succcess of the natural sciences and its gnoseological amputation and misery: the “disaster” of unprecedented destruction potential, upending tremendous intellectual creativity so to speak, that is still with us. What knowledge could step into this arena and take this cognitive situation elsewhere? In the ruin of the sciences, Virilio leans on the Chilean cognitivist Francisco Varela’s suggestion to return to the phenomenology of the sciences. In typical Virilian fashion, the suggestion is there for others to flesh out. By that I think he means the refocusing on the recuperation of the situated field of vital experience, the retrieval of “subjectivity” into knowledge-production situations, that cannot do without accounting for origins, reasons, objectives and collective well-being. There is willful impulse towards the vision of totality, also of the social body, that one may call “post-political,” with some hesitation (Baudrillard speaks of “trans-political” in relation to Virilio). Virilio makes this phenomenological move while keeping Varela underdeveloped against the hermeneutic desire for an external standpoint of total conquest which he puts side by side the English physicist Stephen Hawking. This is personification of the extreme logic of modernization (pp. 97, 115, 123, 130, 148), parallel with, if not identical to the totalitarian logic of destruction and domination epitomized by Nazism (I am not aware of Virilio’s engagement with the Heideggerian pronouncement aforementioned, regretably so). This is the extremity of modern technology that Virilio presents to the readers. This is the catastrophic teleology of technicity and we now live in the unresolved aftermath of that, still with no epistemic alternatives, at least according to our main author (Christopher Simpson has written of cycles of toleration of genocidal measures among those who will profit from them). Side by side the Nazi rocket developer employed after the war by NASA, Wernher von Braun (86-7), Virilio seeks inspiration in the figure of the theologian assassinated by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, always in a nutshell presentation against the immediate “hellish” history of the last decades, difficult if not impossible to inhabit. “Theology” is this field of knowledge that emerges, only in extremis, as though in another tongue in impossible situations?, in the midst of the technological lack of conscience (a second name in this alliance of Christian theology and natural sciences along the Franco-German divide could be that of Theilard de Chardin, not included in The Universityo of Disaster, Virilio could be the “postmodernity” of both McLuhan and de Chardin).

 

 

The proximity between a total (natural) science personified by Hawking, side by side the Google search engine, the increasing Sixth virtual continent typified by the device of Google Earth (23-6, 67, 70), a kind of Godard-like, external totalitarian computer, Alpha 60 for the contemporary Lemmy Cautions, is with the Nazi political formulation of this total modernity causing unprecedented destruction. Yet this horizon is not put out there in the hands of others, but in here at the empty core of the university of disaster. In this precise sense Virilio is engaging in the critical interrogation of the assumptions underpinning technical knowledge, what Ortega called “tecnicismo.” What both authors care about is the intellectual foundation of “technicity:” the Virilian denunciation is clear in the middle of the book and leaves no one untouched (no hypocritical blaming of outside or external societies). Virilio’s strong point is to bring this legacy home: we –(post)modern individuals—inhabit this modernization path and the uncomfortable association of the war knowledge and war technology dominates our global reality. The (post-)modern university of Western disaster is embedded in the texture of the military-industrial complex, as the Eisenhower rubric has it, and the proliferation of separate fields of knowledge is not the way to go. The desire is here after the unity of total knowledge, a sort of “human-species standpoint” advocated by Francesco Varela and Humberto Maturana, and specialists in the natural sciences will be better equipper to follow this line of inquiry, critically. The critique is of the blinders of the little donkies caught up in the disciplinary narcissism of small differences set up in their respective institutionalities, and missing out on the big picture of contemporary avatars, and one wonders how long affording this disrelationship. This is the denunciatory core of this arresting text displaying moments of apocalyptic, lyrical, dissident creativity with precious little warmth. Any intelletual ways out? Any emotional release or outlet? Besides the Chilean cognitivist Francisco Varela (47, 77, 87, 118, 119, 134), there is another parallel: the predilection for Vladimir Jankélévitch within the phenomenological tradition of Merleau-Ponty (Virilio studied with Merleau-Ponty). This is again put against the bad model or normality personified by Allan Kostelecky, “British physicist by trade, working in the US,” “mere” constructionist seeking the great theoretical unit following the fidelity of the small sensation in laboratory experimentation (47). So, here there is a bit, a pedagogic trick?, of a “Latin” imputation of a dangerous science of Anglo-German extraction, technocratic-positivist with a repudiation for big questions, let us say business-culture pragmatism versus a more wholistic, emotion-escorted historically conscious “phenomenology,” that does not have to be stretched along ethnic lines too much. Career-center individuals will advise new generations to “modulate emotion” in institutional settings, to keep emotion apart from strategizing and networking, how to make business decisions away from emotional investment and they will not hesitate to declare, also about themselves, that Americans do not do “existentialism” very well.

 

 

Yet there is more: an eccentric excess or intrusive parallel to what passes as knowledge. Virilio “contaminates” his prose with Old Testament biblical sources in the early Christian tradition historically in the shadow of the Roman Empire, the Book of Psalms,  in particular in the chapter “The University of Disaster,” side by side contemporary figures such as the “theologian and martyr of the Blietzkrieg” Dietrich Bonhoffer (123). This is an exceedingly rich timespace that is acting upon the aftermath of WWII, the direct history that matters for Virilio, also the beginning of his own biographical history.

 

 

Stephen Hawking shares the space with Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658), and the universalist Christian tradition shares the (Baroque) stage with the universalism of the natural sciences culminating in the technological achievement of the atomic bomb by the figure of Julius Robert Oppenheimer (118), and this rich diachronicity of disparate sources is what someone like McLuhan will not be interested in doing. The medium of virtuality / digitality appear to expand (implode?) any kind of content, theoretically presented with no apparent limits. We are in this “university” of “disaster” of increasing inability to discriminate or differentiate among timespaces with no conscience beyond the immediate, narrow, strategic, short-term interests of individualism framed by the horizon of institutionality. Virilio presents the big picture of “big science” following geopolitical interests with fatal consequences for the majority of the inhabitants of the planet (the planetary dimension and the world wide web are not coterminous entities yet). Virilio does not let go of diachronicity. Like Ortega, he juxtaposes the Oppenheimer-led Manhattan Project and the Renaissance figure of Galileo, early representative of the  power / knowledge of the Western university, a brilliant mind who volunteered his telescopic knowledge for the wars of Venice (pp. 21, 120, 127)[15]. Destruction, intimately in the birth moments of tremendous intellecual creativity and a historical incrementalism in the last four centuries:

 

 

This is where the paradoxical project of radically reforming the university comes in, using as an excuse the failure of the growing success of BIG SCIENCE. It would no longer be a mater of some scientific luminary’s litany of repentance, or of a series of Nobels in Physics surrounded by a few Peace Nobels. It would mean official inauguration of this UNIVERSITY OF DISASTER, which would constitute the indispensable MEA CULPA now essential to the credibility of a knowledge in the throes of becoming completely suicidal (capital letters included in the original, 119).

 

 

The nomothetic or universalizing impulse of the natural sciences bears it away as the strongest epistemic force apparently, over the ideographic, culturally diverse or differential disposition of the human sciences, with the social sciences dangling unevenly in between (the nomothetic-idiographic distinction comes from Wallerstein). What passes as “knowledge” comes from the natural sciences, mostly physics and biotechnology streamlining itself in nanotechnology, and nothing else in the other sciences catches Virilio’s interest, at least in this text with no discernible narrative and no main characters to follow around an easy plot (my own account is trying to put together a series of quotes in separate environments, the characters being eclectic, the sources disparate, and always introduced in nutshell, parable-like manner). Hence, Virilio’s proposal is for a science of accidents, an “accidentology,” that does not conform to the predictabilities of any big frame of knowledge production at least as currently existing. “Theology” is here the expansive knowledge that vindicates conscience emerging influenced by, but not entirely subservient to technocentrism (a big issue would be what the fullness or satisfactoriness against the empty core of modern technology might have been for Ortega, what might be for Virilio, a second effort at a synthetic relationship to the essence of technicity for Heidegger?). “Theological knowledge” is the tradition invoked going along the achievements of Galileo circling around the “light of the possible extermination of all critical awareness” (21). The 20th century represents for our main author the apotheosis of this “blinding light.” Hence, Virilio speaks of the generalized confusion of intellectual endeavors, feelings and belongings as thoroughly emblematic of our predicament, a certain framelessness of intellectual life that the digital world exacerbates. This genuine epistemological and emotional disorientation is the collective reality at least since WWII. There are no retreats to a better past that wasn’t and there are lessons still to be learned from the immediate and not so immediate past (biographically, Virilio experiences the trauma of WWII in Nantes, The Paul Virilio Reader, p. 11, 15; yet his vision of modern science inside an expansive conception of life has to contemplate larger dimensions). And this impulse towards the excesssive dimension of any one individuality: the good of a collective dimension may not be immediately intelligible to the nomadic nomads, the Lemmy Cautions of today, with no easy ethical ties in the digital circumstance. In texts that are emotionally neutral, fear and panic are however alluded to as the dominant emotions manufactured in synchronic, standard fashion. It sounds manipulative and totalitarian, almost agoraphobic and cospiratorial with strong Huxleyan and Orwellian overtones. This is the dominant emotional modulation of Virilio’s “transpolitical” vision. Yet, the interrogation –that I may still wish to call philosophical—still wishes to want to hold on to mindfulnes of our best efforts how to learn to, using Heideggerian language, meditate, strive, shape and work, entreat and thank. Intellectual life must have to do with the maintenance of interrogations with no easy answers, comfortable forms, soothing content, with or without the encroachments of institutional-bureaucratic conditions, come what may[16].

 

 

In the Manner of a Conclusion.

This article began with genuine skepticism as to what the relative amorphous, “minor” body of university knowledge called the “humanities,” or most commonly, at least in the US, the liberal arts, might do in the contemporary situation of knowledge production, other than ornamentalism. Now, university knowledge production is in a genuine crisis of self-justification, dwelling in “groundlessness” let us say in Heideggerian fashion, whether institutions wish to come to terms with such crisis in public using vigorous discourse is another matter altogether. The big frame here has been the military-industrial complex of US supremacy, and the “not-for-profit” social relations of class access embedded in a capitalist society with zero-tolerance for theoretical alternatives to the way things are. Perhaps this is a good an opportunity as any for “minor” disciplines to continue pushing existing states of uncertainty, since they have nothing to lose that they have not already lost in the vicinity of the serious interrogation of what passes as “knowledge” and “education” in our increasingly global circumstances. How “Spanish and Spanish American Studies” as the allocated field of area-studies knowledge will play is anyone’s guess and there are not many occasions for celebration that I can see in the immediate past, say since 1970s, which is the “classic” background period of such studies in the immediate American circumstance. Hence, the thing is how to remain belligerent with the repressive toleration of the American-University-based humanities that do not know themselves inside the larger institutional structures undergoing convulsions, also inside a convulsive society that has not learned to relate epistemically to the world at large in terms other than belligerence.  Will other settings do better?

 

 

In light of the previous Virilian rendition, it is fair to state our current predicament is one of inhumanities within conventional disciplinary configuration mash-up and also one of inhumanity. And yet one has to politicize both “negative” terms in relation to local intensities and global designs never believing that the immediate institutional circumstance is the be-all and end-all of social totality. Virilio helps us say that we inhabit an environment of deterrence of knowledge production, that anti-intellectualism is not “out there” with the outsiders inside and outside American society but well inside “here” in processes such as bureaucratization and mercantilization of social relations inside houses of higher learning. It is intellectualist and discursive prejudice to believe that the most articulate and most intelligent will honestly bear it away: but do we want to let go of it, publicly? Now, the big picture of the official policy of Cold War containment may find parallels inside the deterrence implemented largely by university settings with glorious few exceptions. Or perhaps we are moving towards silence over international avatars (preemptive war, rendition, illiberal illegality of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) making their way into everyday relations around pedagogy and scholarship. Where are the dissident voices emerging from universities in relation to big events or the small ones in the tea-cups of university disciplines offered out there to the hermeneutic appetite of customers and users? Are we blinded yet by the “light of the possible extermination of all critical awareness”? Don’t we already inhabit the functional and cynical nihilism of the current system that dares not speak its proper name in public, while manufacturing desertification of radically alternative possibilities, while playing the vuvuzelas of cultural diversity?  “Spanish / Hispanic” positions are among these diversities –always in relation to stronger uniformities– and one must not hesitate any longer to come out and say how profoundly unsatisfactory the current predicament is from a political, social and historical standpoint, but also intellectual and emotional. And this expression of intellectual discontent knows full well that the policy of containment of minority / diversity positions is not going to change any time soon, particularly now that the “center” of institutional life inside imperial nations, appears empty of content, with no convincing, coherent narrative. “Language no longer says anything, as our dramatits would have it” (106): So here we are, at least according to Virilio, in the midst of disciplinary fission, with the incresing domination of the audiovisual, handling disincentives to knowledge production, beset by fear and ignorance, right at the core of institutions self-appointed “liberal” against “illiberal others,” sinning by omission and lacking  sustainable frames of historical intelligibility in relation to their own historical history, let alone others. Virilio takes it further: big frames of intelligibility (historicity) are challenged by modern technical science (technicity in Heideggeresque) and the final thesis may be repeated now: this is the political unconscious of Americanness as the “exceptional culture,” somewhat separate from all others, while being the recipient of most migratory flows, best giving body to the logic of modernity, and perhaps nothing but modernity. Is this so? It appears to be so in relation to the severity of the loosening of social bonds mentioned earlier in relation to Hobsbawn and Anderson. Yet, who can doubt that this technological determinism is the de facto if not de iure collective, political unconscious of most (native) Americans conventionally schoold in America in the face of the fast disentangle of time-honored social ties? Is Americanism the fundamental ideology of this extremism of technicity that holds sway to the system the most fundamentally when the narratival rationale and historical sensibility are at their most fragile, in the manner of the trapped characters in Buñuel’s Angel Exterminador? The digital culture exacerbates this monadic nomadism made structural away from inherited textures of ethical life. Does this virtualization of social relations feel like a necessary, drastic liberation from the dusty conventionalities of old forms? No more atavisms of any kind, finally? Feelings of exhilaration? Not yet, particularly in the vicinity of our author.

 

 

In the current dysfunctionality of big narratives, Virilio’s aphoristic thinking forces us to take a look at the determinations of intellectual life making do inside bureaucratic-privatized houses of higher learning. Any outsides? But this is not only an intellectual problem, although it is a Cassandra-like intellectual presenting a condemnation in toto. Where is he looking from in putting together his critique of conventional disciplinary arrangements? What is his observation platform? I have spoken of the technological centrality, or determinism, of his vision. And yet there is a clear sense that digitality / virtuality is really not –and cannot possibly be– the vital core of his preoccupations. There’s got to be something else. And this is the space occupied by biblical quotes. Should we call this space “theological”? Do we endorse it, embrace it against his desert landscape of the catastrophe of modern technology? There is no throroughness or systematization in The University of Disaster, or if any of the other texts consulted. The condemnatory disposition is unambiguous in relation to the cosubstantial violence implemented by the technicity of self-appointed liberal societies. This is the hegemonic undersanding of “modernity,” at least in the U.S., that is, no longer linked to the history of the West, or history of civilizations, or the biography of the nation-state, but mostly, and perhaps mostly unconciously to the latest technology. And the latest technology presents itself informally, light-hearted, value-free and politically unencumbered and neutral, good to use, against all “fundamenalisms.” It is high time therefore to confront the regimentations of liberal societies in relation to subject formations, but also to its own knowledge-production mechanisms, instead of throwing undesiderata out there to some phantasmatic area-studies exteriority, which is the everyday phantasmatic xenophobia that gives this country its bad name, and rightly so (the strong insinuation has been to try to see how the big picture of geopolitics appertaining to the imperial nation finds its way, never directly or explicitly mind you, into area-studies sections in regular university offerings in fundamental agreement of goals and objectives for the most part). Virilian criticism is mostly operative indoors, accordingly, inside the dominant transatlantic platform of the First World, and the previous pages have tried to put together the formatting of his eclecticism. His axiology has been accounted for in relation to its interdisciplinary format that does not respect conventional tripartite faculty divisions (natural and social sciences and liberal studies). His has been, at least in The University of Disaster, a preeminent concern with the successses, oblivions and disasters of the natural sciences, that are again not “out there,” but “in here.” How does he break free? Or does he? There is the occasional assumption of the voice of the prophets coming out of the book of Psalm, as though our author could not possibly find any other way out of these entanglements. His style is anti-biographical,  almost entirely impersonal and mood-neutral, trans-individual, as though he was spared from the extremism of planetary catastrophe (managers and practitioners’ lack of response with this type of content is one of the conventional mechanisms of institutional deterrence). It has been said that his condemnations “return” to the lack of phenomenological conscience side by side the atomic-bomb moment of the end of WWII, and here there is no perceptible sense of great victory, as though he had this dystopian situation ahead of us, which is certainly unnerving to say the least[17].

 

 

 

It has been Baudrillard who has made some criticisms of Virilio in relation to the theme of the compressed acceleration of timespaces. It has to do with the push to the extremes:

Virilio’s calculation is to push the military to a kind of extreme absolute power, which can ultimately cause its own downfall, place it before the judgment of God and absorb it into the society it destroys. Virilio carries out this calculation with such an identification or obsession that I can only credit him at times with a powerful sense of irony: the system devours its own principle of reality, inflates its own empty forms until it reaches an absolute and its own ironic destiny of reversal. I myself am not so interested in military hardware, but in software. It’s the form of his idea that strikes me as valid[18].

Baudrillard acknowledges sharing the “scenario of deterrence” with Virilio (ibidem, p. 105), who is interested in strategic vicissitudes (p. 105), unlike Baudrillard’s lack of patience for them. For the author of the slippage of reality into simulacra, Virilio moves between the real and the mythical, the metaphorical and the reality of the atomic bomb and of nuclear apocalypse: is this a Baroque game of distorting mirrors of reality and appearance with no final solution[19]? There is, I feel, less play in Virilio’s predilection for the phenomenologically inspired natural sciences a la Varela and Maturana, and none of it in relation to Nazi blietzkrieg of extreme modernization logic. Virilio quotes from those assassinated by the Nazis. The type of irony alluded to by Baudrillard appears more to be his own play of keeping things at a distance. Virilio’s fantasies are more “obsessively” conspiratorial and these, in the light of Zizek’s previous comments, are more difficult to shake off.

 

We inhabit a tremendously difficult mutational moment, not only in the US currently in the middle of vast transformations that may largely speaking put this imperial national formation as another country among others, no more no less and this is the trauma that authors such as Wallerstein and others are already putting on the table. Yet, this is the kind of “un-American thinking” that will not be easily get to circulate inside university settings and outside on the commercial streets. What about the circulation of larger vistas provided by Virilio, Wallerstein, Ortega, Heidegger, Baudrillard if not in reduced academic circles? Virilio’s summary periodizations tend to be diffusionist and conventionally Eurocentric, for example when he serializes the intimate cohabitation of corrupt power –there is no intimation of what good political power will be– with universalizing technologies of communication from the Renaissance until now. He begins with the dawn of the printing press, continues with the secret papers in the moment of the Enlightenment, reaches  The New York Times with its own receiving stations for transatlantic communication, the “greatest news machine at the beginning of the century,” and lands in the 20th century after 1914, with the mass observation of the cinematography, the first multiplex news transmission, followed by the arrival of television in 1948 as a means of civil deterrence vis-a-vis the nuclear deterrence (Desert Screen, pp. 42-3). His nutshell or abbreviated historicity is technologically determined, technicity winning the historical game, so to speak, but our author does not want to go easy into that “night.” He opens up historical vistas in one or two paragraphs, only to close them down with an ominious sign towards contemporaneity. Virilio’s real interest is in the 19th and 20th centuries with the eyes wide open on the European-American platform of observation and control.  One can say, however, that despite moving inside the conventional Great-Power-format of geopolitical arrangement of big planetary arrangements, he does not want to remain docile there. He proposes a big-scale mutation towards what he calls the “metropolitics of globalization… [taking over] the geopolitics of [strong] nations, just as the latter once took over from the city-state of the antique origins of politics.” Hence, his vision of a new global map includes “a progressive loss of the geopolitics of our origins in favor of a metropolitics that is fundamentally crepuscular” (City of Panic, pp. 15, 16). This is a vision of an amorphous or mass society in big urban concentrations comparable to visions of the multitude by recent Italian thinkers (Virno, Negri, Agamben) against past imperial and national frames. Theres is a certain suspension of frames of collective referentiality that could correspond with the framelessness of digitality / virtuality. The big picture is quintessential Virilian, also in the “smuggle” of the observation point that appears to do entirely away with the very notion of perspectivism or (social) positionality (isn’t this a certain “return” of the disembodied, trascendentalist Cartesian cogito?). And yet, Virilio’s semantic field conveys a mood that is not expansive, or celebratory, but cautious, circumspect. This type of dismantling of a certain Euro-American normality, historical negative model if you wish may be then reappraised. We appear to be moving away from imperial Great-Power nation-state frame of official meaningfulness with identifiable centers of power / knowledge to a  more diffuse, chaotic, abstract megalopolis network (were the Twin Towers a strong point of reference for New York?, is New York the multilingual, multicultural commercial center of the US?, where is the center in New York?, how rapid its constructions and destructions?, how easy to reckon with its historical dimensions?, etc.). The main thesis of The University of Disaster is the “blinding light, brighter than a thousand suns, of the possible extermination of all critical awareness” (21), in relation to the paradoxical creativity exhibited of the natural sciences in the 20th century. The accusation is that of lack of conscience in dealing with modern technical knowledge. Could the other sciences do anything worthy of critical attention? Ominous silence in The Universityo of Disaster.Virilio occupies this twilight zone while signaling the whole disincentive tissue of deterrence and of anti-intellectualism of not wanting to know, of not wanting dissident, seductively foreign knowledge of consequence right there, or here, in the houses officially devoted to education and knowledge production.

Do we go back reactively, conservatively to old forms of knowledge and sociability, or do we eagerly still embrace the modernist ethos of wanting the new forms, the newer the better? Is it possibly that the more supple and lighter, the (American) forms of social relations, the more conducive to unpredictable change –as opposed to older, slower, and more stable and more tradition-bound (European) forms? Ortega and Heidegger did not think so. American society does not appear to be interested in any kind of  “conservatism,” and this dynamism, also impermanence and ephemerality, eminently dismissive and forgetful of past forms, was labeled, ungrateful and barbarous by the Madrid philosopher[20]. Isn’t it true that academic institutions follow labor structurations and destructurations dictated by advanced capitalism, just like regular businesses, under the good name and banner of “mobility”? And who can doubt that these conditions of knowledge production find their way into the current ephemerality of cultures of scholarship agendas? Who will risk upsetting this “dynamism? I do not see Virilio making any final choice between the two seemingly isomorphic sides of the Atlantic, or within subsections, at least as far as the natural sciences and computer sciences are concerned. His level of engagement is with the intellectual foundations of the natural sciences, identical to Ortega’s focus in what he called “tecnicismo.” Virilio does not engage intellectually with varities of religious forms either, despite Christianity being, for him, the dominant point of reference. Nor does he do social-relations approaches to competing knowledge-production entities (his is a “trans-political,” or “post-political” approach, “conspiratorial” and perhaps unconvicing). His macro-vision does not provide alternatives to the “crepuscular” status quo except the occasional emergence of the prophetic voice speaking of other, drastic things to come. He does not intellectualize it. He welcomes it. Is this a “hole” to be welcomed in his otherwise unrelenting illusion-free critical analysis of the phenomenological mindlessness embedded in the supreme, natural sciences? Our author does not appear to need to be mindful of anthropological reconstructions, of the more or less desirable instances of everyday life on this or that side of the Atlantic, discriminating among richer or poorer articulations of historical sensibilities, lifestyle habits, ethnic affiliations, sympathies or solidarities, immagined communities of national belonging, immigration trajectories and good and bad behaviors, etc. He does not do indulge in cultural-diversity comparativism not finding it significant, intellectually, not even in communicational modalities. He refrains from stating his own preferences, typically demarcated by nationalities (the Italians do this, the French do that, etc.). In short: Virilio remains more monothetic than idiographic, if unconventionally so.  And his criticism suggests indisciplinary knowledge following the tradition of phenomenology suggested by Varela. His eclecticism also subverts conventional disciplinary divisions by opening up the “theological” language of prophecy inside the Christian tradition. What does it mean to invoke, and respectfully so, these old forms of religious intelligibility in the global space of supreme imminence of modern technicity and of the virtual and digital communication culture? Surely this bringing of theological knowledge inside structurally secular fields of knowledge is a provocation. And yet this religiosity does not appear in institutionalized form, nor with a long history. Where is it then coming from? Virilio does not seem to care about aesthetics much. He does not go “baroque” in the same way that Benjamin does with the German tragic drama against the age of mechanical reproduction. So what does it mean to invoke prophecy in the age of digital virtuality? Is Virilio after “nonsense,” perhaps in the same way Lemmy Caution was after poetry in interfacing with the global computer Alpha 60 in Alphaville? Could cyberspace informalities be a fundamental space for a new knowledge production, also of new forms of sociability emerging from the loosening of inherited forms of ethical life? Could ephemerality play to one’s advantage inside larger national-state frames of turbulent global capitalism, and of consumerist culture seemingly flattening out all fundamental resistances.

Our faulty representations of some immense communcational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely the whole world system of present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating, not so much in its own right, but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imagination to grasp –namely the whole new decentered global network of the third stage of capital itself [21].

There is mesmerization in Virilio. And it is against this grand landscape of an unimaginable, unthinkable network and of big institutions that the use of the Book of Psalms and St. Paul is a disconcerting move. Are these networks at our fingertips? Do we get to land intellectually, emotionally, easily in the big cities that the airplanes that we take pass pass by? What matrices of sustainable intelligibility at the street-level semiotic richness of the audiovisual consumer culture? Is Virilian “revelation” evidence of a failure of thetic, evaluative discourse that wishes to break free from an undesirable orthodoxy, tries to, but can’t, and is thus kept wanting and waiting? Is it a frustrated desire for fracture? Is it a convincing way out? Is it a denaturalization of capitalistic forms, increasingly digitized and virtualized? (and try to apply critical interrogation of the most current forms embedded in the dominant (American) political unconscious in public and private timespaces, inevitably informed by these forms and functions, and officially devoted to the pursuit of higher-education knowledge!). What kind of knowledge is this revelatory knowledge? At the end, I am still of two minds about this rhetorical move of his that “concludes” with a fifth, slim chapter called “Revelation.” Is this reference to the book of the apocalypse, a puzzling form of enlightenment or another form of obscurantism in the new age of digital technicity, repressively tolerated by liberal plurality of options of minor knowledge practices? An expansion of, or a retreat from the critical mind so far exercised? Is this a culmination or a failure? A form of refusal to compromise inside a critical vision that is “crepuscular” inside an uncompromising, if unacknowledged fundamentalism of digital, virtual technicity? Where does our axiology rest? Where does Virilio’s, fundamentally? But, what does conclusion mean in relation to some of the big themes outlined here: the meaning of education and knowledge in out immediate circumstance against other timespaces; the structural debilitation of the humanities in fields of general university education, particularly in the so-called “liberal” institutions, and the neutralization of all content, or belief-system (throwing the baby with the dirty bath water?); the historical need for structures of intelligibility and of feeling in moments of nomadism and monadism, (what are the points of referentiality in ‘twitter,’ ‘yahoo,’ ‘google’?); the confrontation between technicity and historicity; the confrontation between the One and the many; the prison-house of any one institutional house of being and the ideal possibility of greater play, or “freedom,” among several institutionalities; the discipline and indiscipline of knowledge production, and the negotiation of the jargons of legitimacy not only out there, but in here, the thetic and non-thetic dimensions of linguistic, discursive production in the age of the domination of the audiovisual, etc. It is not easy to see Virilio’s fundamental value system (or axiology) and this is my limitation, not his. Inside his vision of a global landscape of technocratic nihilism (value is nowhere) that he critiques, he does not hide his criticism of the lack of phenomenological foundation of the natural sciences, the crown jewels of knowledge production in the last century. But there is disaster here, and this imperial knowledge is catastrophically naked. This is the drastic negative evaluation that will not go away at the end. Without wanting easy pronouncements, what prevents our main author from endorsing a fully technocratic disposition? A form of knowledge and emotion –perhaps religiosity– still to come? Should we make much of the invocation of divination in the vicinity of the historical figure of Baltasar Gracián? Should we go further into this foreign horizon against the naturalities in the immediate circumstance, accordingly? How to deviate, turn around, if not upend the normal, naturalized state of capitalistic forms, the “formal Being,” ontologically speaking, in our increasingly digital “cultures” of rapid, virtual dentity interfaces? That is a big, final question that will stay with us in the end, once the computer has been turned off.

Oberlin College,  23/06/10

 

Any comments, suggestions, get in touch, fgh2173@gmail.com

Bibliography:

Anderson, Perry. The Origins of Postmodernity. New York: Verso, 1998.

_____________. Spectrum: from Right to Left in the World of Ideas. London: Verso, 2005.

Baudrillard, Jean. Forget Foucault. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007.

Beard, Charles A. Toward Civilization. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1930.

Carter, E.H., Ed. The New Past and Other Essays on the Development of Civilization Freeport, New York: Boks for Libraries Press, [1925] 1968.

DiNunzio, Mario R., Ed. Woodrow Wilson: Essential Writings and Speeches of the Scholar-President. New York: New York UP, 2006.

Heidegger, Martin. “Only a God Can Save Us:” The Spiegel Interview (1966). Translated by William J. Richardson. Internet Archive. Community Books. Open Source www.archive.org/details/MartinHeidegger-DerSpiegelInterviewenglishTranslationonly AGodCan (09/06/10 access); pp. 45-67.

______________.  The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated and with an Introduction by William Lovitt. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, [1962] 1996.

Lewis,  Martin W., Wigen, Karen E. The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1997.

Marcuse, Herbert, Moore Barrington and Wolff, Robert Paul. A Critique of Pure Tolerance. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970): pp. 81-123.

Ortega y Gasset, José. Obras Completas. Tomo V (1933-1941) Sexta Edición (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 6ª. Edición, [1947] 1964).

Pletsch, Carl E. “ The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, Circa 1950-1975,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23, 4 (Oct. 1981): pp. 565-590.

Redhead, Steve. The Paul Virilio Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 2004.

Virilio, Paul. Art and Fear. New York: Continuum, 2003.

__________. Art as Far as the Eye can See. New York: Berg, 2007.

__________. City of Panic. New York: Berg, 2005.

__________. Desert Screen. New York: Continuum, 2005.

__________. The Lost Dimension. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.

__________. Negative Horizon. New York: Continuum, 2006.

__________. The Original Accident. Malden, MA: Polity, 2007.

__________. The University of Disaster. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press, 1995.  __________________. The Decline of American Power. New York: The New Press, 2003.

__________________. European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York: The New Press, 2006.

Yúdice, George, Franco, Jean, Flores, Juan, eds. On Edge: the Crisis of Contemporary

Latin American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

Zizek, Slavoj. “Cyberspace, or, How to Traverse the Fantasy in the Age of the Retreat of

the Big Other,” Public Culture (Vol. 10, Num. 3, Spring 1998): pp. 483-513.

 

[1] Ortega y Gasset, “Meditación de la Técnica,” Obras Completas. Tomo V. 6ª. Edición, [1947] 1964): p. 357. Translations mine unless otherwise indicated.

 

[2] The British dimension delivers the quaint split of Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, as (post-)imperial legacies of international relations. The American setting, always less eloquent and less historically tested, has no patience for such niceties appertaining to international relations and puts them typically subordinated to U.S. foreign policy formats. Think of the typical area studies coverage of a recognizable journal such as Foreign Affairs, for instance: mutatis mutandis the parallel in areas of study of the social sciences and the humanities with their literatures, cultures and languages. Think of the articulation of Spanish and Spanish American Studies inside King’s College. Think of the various institutes at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, for instance. The point is to see how these fields and areas may translate into representational academic coverage of nations or continents, but also of official relations between Britain and foreign governments. Typically, the Europe-US platform behaves historically as the “non-area” studies area, the neutral or default position, the same way “white” does in census forms, but perhaps increasingly less so. How does the sign “Spanish / Hispanic” fare in these institutional mutations of global and local typologies if not unevenly? Think of the separated section four of the Hispanic “origin” including subtypes, and the section five dealing with “race” not allowing the the “Hispanic” option, in the latest US 2010 Census Bureau. “Hispanic” –also “Latino”– occupies the typical “majority minority” status in the nation, but not inside the single-digit “diversity quotas” inside workplaces and most institutions of higher learning. There is no typification of “Hispanic” in the national census context of Great Britain. I am highlighting the correlation between geoopolitical divisions attending to the impact of power and influence, foreign relations and cultural missions of national governments, and the (dis-)relationship with branches of disciplinary knowledge established historially in public and private institutions. The US provides in general a more dynamic, also chaotic, model of mostly privatized correlation to trends and pressures based on the Cold War priorities, always with a thinner historical sensibility and declining comparative, international self-awareness. An excellent article is by Carl E. Pletsch about Cold War partitions of 1-2-3 worlds and the allocation of the sciences in the timeframe of 1950-1975. We live in the smithereens of such official thinking with no defining continuities and alternatives.

[3] Philosophy as a discipline is completely kaput in the US in its analytical Anglo closedness with only marginal opening to (continental) philosophy (read: European), a revelatory symptom is that those of a philosophical disposition have had to find refuge in fields of literature and culture, Duke University in the 1990s for example, Richard Rorty in the University of Virginia and Stanford University, among others. I am always interested in the institutional history of the different fields of knowledge, their origins, epistemic shifts, mutations, debilitations and demise.

[4] Perry Anderson, Spectrum: from Right to Left in the World of Ideas (p. 303).

[5] The average American conventionally schooled in the seven-continent division (North and South America being two), at least since the 1950s, will be lost here in Virilio’s “classic” European-based geography. The dominant (American) English variety of the global lingua franca splits ever so naturally America into two “continents,” against the still resisting orthodoxy of mono-continentality among the romance languages, with the typical crass oblivion of anything that may have preceded this 1950s way of thinking. Did the “founding fathers” in the foundational moment of the Enlightenment speak of two continents (North and South America and not Americas)? This blinding ignorance is shining light upon the imperial hill. Let us mark the normal use of the name of “America,” metonynimically appropriated for itself while discarding the big portion of the rest that then needs the Latin demarcation made foreign and out there, not in here since the early moments of European colonization, one only has to check the Spanish-language toponyms inside contemporary USA borders. This conventional “arrested (historical) development” shortens and reifies the name of the nation, “United States of America” becoming “America,” and let us not think further about the Columbus moment of the discovery of  “America,” a misnomer that bespeaks European colonization, the moment of the Indias Occidentales, etc. This genuine geographical disorientation bespeaks the perhaps unconscious impact of geopolitical realties and the American “natives” conventionally schooled in the American territory without the luxury of comparativism will typically not like to be reminded of these amputations.Michael Novak commented the “vast process of vast psychic repression” Americanization represents and this frightening quote is quoted approvingly by influential author Samuel Huntington in his latest Who are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity? (p. 61), a brutal anti-Hispanic book. We can cross the pond: the School of Advance Study at the University of London has the “Institute for the Study of the Americas” of recent creation. Hence, let us mark the need, in the English language, to pluralize “the Americas,” still something of a university-based neologism, not yet conventional use in the media or at the street level, where the plural sounds affected and contrived, bigger platform of comparative interrelations in the Western Hemisphere (what corresponds to “América” in the Spanish language). “America” is thus property sign of the official US, in the same way the “West” has been appropriated by the “Coalition forces” in missions in other geographies, and fun is guaranteed in queries about the “classic” relations between the timespace of the “West,” the US, Europe and Latin America. To develop a bit further reflexivity around geographical thinking, see Lewis and Wigen’s good book Myth of Continents.

[6] Wallerstein intertwines Wilsonianism and Leninism in the same ideology of industrial modernization or developmentalism in the first half of the 20th century (After Liberalism, pp. 176-206). We might as well remember the skepticism of Ortega y Gasset in the seconf half of the best-seller Revolt of the Masses about the American option within the platform of the West, side by side Heidegger’s skepticism about such loose form of planetary technicity, the culture business, Americanism, included in the Spiegel Interview aforementioned; and there is no doubt some resilient Eurocentrism in both European intellectuals. There is one telling film, Mission to Moscow (originally produced in 1943), in which Ambassador Joseph E. Davies displays his admiration for the early moments of the Soviet Revolution under Stalin against the early perception of the aberration of Nazism kept equidistant from capitalism and socialism. Wallerstein makes these two disparate ideological lines intersect from the perspective of critical, post-Cold War hindsight, and this reading remains provocative and genuinely unconventional.

[7] His corpus is divided in humanities and social sciences holdings, typically separated from the arts, at least in the US, the latter section conveniently including those with “art” in the title. These fragmentations appear artificial in relation to an author who appears less concerned with the history of aesthetics and seemingly most unconcerned with proposals for a synthetic formulations (postmodernism, neo-Baroque, transculturation, multiculturalism) for the second half of the 20th century. There is little –or nothing—in Virilio of the type of intertwining of aesthetics and politics at the beginning of The Origins of Postmodernity by Perry Anderson following a Jamesonian inspiration.

[8] Zizek ‘s Lacanian-inspired Marxism suggests the “modesty” of the traversing of the fantasy, keeping it at some playful distance,  against three other options available in cyberspeace: the psychotic suspension of Oedipus, the continuity of Oedipus by other means and the perverse staging of the law. He appears to be mostly concerned with the inequalities and repudiations, explicitly or most typically implicitly articulated, informing the structural hypocrisies of our self-appointed “liberal” society. His ideological critique privileges what he calls the overdetermination of the network of sociosymoblic relations, power and domination, and not cyberspace per se (cyberspace being but one powerful, increasingly influential modulation of these).

[9] See “Tracking the Dinosaur” by Harry Harootunian (History’s Disquiet, pp. 26-58), directly concerned with post-WWII Asia Studies in the US, a nice follow-up to Pletsch. Mutatis mutandis…The hypothesis is that the areas of interest of the military-industrial complex can be nicely superimposed with the university-based area studies and their typically literary and cultural services. “Spanish” is European in focus in its institutional foundaton in the US, still strongly during Ortega’s times, and progressively less so, going along the progressive de-Europeanization of American university and society in general.

[10] Inevitably timespaces will include subject relations operating, attached or embedded in them: “our” vision of the Baroque ‘classic’ Baltasar Gracián, say, should “we” have one, will have to take into account our platform of observation, interests, insights, blindness etc., engaging Gracián and significant interpretive moments after Gracián’s times, inside legitimate structures of uneven meaningfulness and of “feeling,” as Raymond Williams highlighted. Even in the negative “we” have to be able to articulate why Gracián may not be a strong point of reference at all as the horizon Baroque typically is not so in the Jeffersonian-Palladian Anglo-American platform officially anti-Baroque, historically. What about in realms of popular culture of little historical sensitivities? This double interrogation will be for another time and place. The sugestion remains that the most persuasive historical reconstructions will deal with various timespaces and subject positions typically in institutional localities, retroactively speaking, that is, from the timeframe of the historical reconstruction going backwards, another thing is whether these reconstructions keep these timespaces honestly explicit typically in unequal situations of power/ knowledge. I am trying to stipulate the method of the geopolitics of scholarly agendas and/or interpretations of social avatars. This hermeneutic caveat does not at all mean that connections have to be immediate, rigid, causal, direct, etc. Virtual / digital technicity makes these timespaces and socil relations more slippery, unpredictable and ad hoc, but it does not at all mean that timespaces vanish into the thin air.

[11] Digital technology disrupts the original idea of the Western university, the acquaintance with universal or total knowledge, which is related to the “catholicity” of Christianity, emerging from totalizing medievalisms, splintering in early modernities by the protestations of Protestantism in the European context. Ortega observes that the mechnical interpretation of the Universe, the contemporary notion of technique, begins around 1600 around the figure of Galileo among others in “Meditation on Technique.” This is conterminous with the Cartesian cogito and Baroque aesthetics, prefiguration of a certain modernity, however maligned. Virilio does not explicitly develop this historicist, philologist, etymological “Eurocentric” way of thinking, but it can be affirmed that he is embedded in them, that these trajectories are implicit in his apparently frameless world vision, since he does not attempt to present a contradition to them. He appears incurious and unconcerned about the possible syntheses of politics and aesthetics of the 20th century or other centuries. in any of the forms, avant-garde and modernismo / modernism, postmodernity / postcoloniality, neo-Baroque debates, transculturation.

[12] Ortega’s great if uneven technical meditation states the two-edge sword of prodigious technical expertise: “the prodigious expansion of technical science first made it stick out of the modest repertoire of natural mental activities, such modesty allowing us to acquire full consciousness of the technical knowledge, but since then, its sober growth caught in the full swing of a fantastic progression, threatens to cloud such consciousness” (“Meditación de la Técnica,” ibidem, p. 332).

[13] Americanism being perhaps exceptionalism of this violation and violence of timespaces effected by modernization: can we think deeper into the fracture of the texture of ethics, the violation of filial pieties, the dominant model of assimilation of those immigrant cultures,  the “final (monadic) solution” to historically inherited bonds, the release of communal associations into the framelessness of the digital technicity in the shorthand of world wide web? Ortega already spoke of the massification process, or “de-individualization,” of modern societies, as something threatening and unstoppable. The avant-garde movements were part and parcel of it with various political dispositions to be sure. Ortega y Gasset’s existentical historicism defends accordingly “personhood” (personalismo) in the subjective form of the quintessential philosopher in all of us inevitably embedded in the circumstance, however still to be “saved.” Heidegger has beautiful comments, following Holderlin, about what “saving” means (The Question concerning Technology and other essays, ibidem, pp. 28-29, 48-9). The final Spiegel interview has identical Holderlin emphasis, if unspecified. The transcendental thinking-subject formulation is an evolution of the Cartesian cogito, seemingly with no attributes, hence “universal” or “universalizing” in its (d-)enunciations. And one can easily see the open door for contemporary, multicultural criticism to come in. A beautiful interlacing between these two sophisticated meditations may be developed: “Technique” is fabrication, construction, industry, the “supernatural” endeavor that is “superfluous” well and above the merely circumstantial, natural or animal level of humanity in the Madrid philosopher. For the German philosopher, technique is never a soulless tool that alienates, but the ideal principle of the house of Being, if properly channelled. There is an ominous projection of a “de-ontological and groundless” thinking, barbarous normality, in both thinkers, as the eminently operational and pragmatic, within the deliberately reduced horizon of pragmatism, against the presumably “bad side” of ideological, political and philosophial deviations, typically not to touch publicly also in instittutions of higher learning.

[14] The final sections of the lecture series “Meditación de la Técnica” deal with the figure of the “technician” producing modern technical knowledge, and how this modernity is different from ancient, traditional dimensions (Weberian sociologism could enrich these visions of burocratized collective institutionalities). Ortega engages in the interrogation of the assumptions underpinning technical knowledge, what he calls “tecnicismo.” What he cares about is the intellectual foundation of “technicity:” the questioning of the ways of knowing that receive the name of “technical.” He  makes a reference to the rise of the “technocracy” (citing Allen Raymond) on the American side of things. He signals the embarrassment of apparent theoretical illimitatons with an empty content in the most intense technical moments in human history. He historicizes such modern technology with the vignette of the mechanical arts, flying bird-like artefacts devised by Juanelo Turriano for a retired Charles V in Yuste as dawn of modern technique (Bacon, Galileo, Descartes… ). His promise of a “cultural compartivism” between the techniques of Euro-America and those of Asia was unfulfilled (pp. 363-375).

[15] Galileo, someone who suffered the disgraceful results of the Church trial of his knowledge denial, but Virilio does not find the trial proceedings disgraceful. And this is a crucial distinction to bear in mind. A self-imposed assignment will be to read Brecht’s play on Galileo (1938) against the immediate American travels. Galileo’s recantation vis-a-vis Brecht’s encounter with the House of Un-American Activities? Incidentally, the contemporary American playwright Richard Foreman vindicates the contemporaneity

of Baltasar Gracián, the “great student of human duplicity and fallibility.” Gracián’s navigational endeavors are also Brecth’s, at least according to the American author, and this will be a window into historical reconstructions for another time and place (Brecht’s Life of Galileo, Penguin Classics, New York, 2008): pp. x-xi). Ortega y Gasset writes “En torno a Galileo” in 1933 and he begins his “Galileísmo de la Historia,” precisely with the image of a seventy-years-old scientist kneeling in front of the Inquisitorial tribunal in the city of Rome. This is, he declares, a foundational moment of the crisis of the belief constitutive of modern reason, the “renaissance” proper, that may still be with us, even in the negative overdetermination of the network of sociosymbolic power-and-domination (post-)colonial relations including non-European lifeworlds. A mutation of the very idea of knowledge production emerging from the “middle ages” happened circa 1600. Perhaps we are living one such momentous mutation circa 2010.

[16] Wallerstein’s commendable intellectual trajectory has forcefully demostrated healthy skepticism in relation to the university setting coping with vast transformations. He wonders whether the university –a transplanted European creation of about 200-hundred years on the American side of things– can survive current transformations. Where are the alternatives? Where will knowledge come from then? What will “education” come to signify a few decades from now in relation to the history of knowledge of previous centuries? That intellectual life is currently under (virtual) siege by privatization, commercialism, bureaucratization, commodification mechanisms: Doubts anyone? How else when the morphological stability of reality is threatened with collapse? Are there any chances of conveying this “agony of historicity,” these emotion-laced epistemic struggles in standard university instruction? Are there fundamental differences between for-profit businesses and not-for-profit corporate institutions of higher learning? What about labor conditions of the vast majority of faculty members, the access of knowledge spaces by the vast majority of students? It is not obvious anymore that universities are eminently about knowledge-production at all. Where they ever? There is less doubt there is a tremendous amount of deterrence of any one knowledge production that may deliver instability to  already disoriented institutions (European Universalism, p. 69).

[17] Wallerstein’s predictions are sobering, if not horrific: see The Decline of American Power, pp. 273-94 & After Liberalism, pp. 176-206.

[18] “Forget Braudillard: An interview with Sylvere Lotringer, in Forget Foucault, pp. 71-125 [104]).

[19] Baudrillard defends the contemporary meaningfulness of the Spanish Baroque Jesuit author, Baltasar Gracián, identified as satisfactory intellectual engagement with the “eternal suspense,” the  “nothing but means, without ends” of teleological models or progressive-evolutionary processes of cognition. Baudrillard defines the order of politics as this eternal suspense. What would “transpolitical” be in relation to Virilio then? A

way out of immanence understood to be an impasse? The existence of God makes no fundamental sense for us since we are only engaged in “strategic worldliness.” The virtue of the Spanish Jesuit is the realization of the impossibility of proof of God’s existence, hence the assumption of suspense. There is only means, whether moral or immoral. There is only play. Any difference with Machiavellianism? Baudrillard does not address the Virilian psalmic disposition, a recent tendency? Attempts to engage the Baroque may revisit this insight (Forget Foucault, ibidem, pp. 111-2).

[20] “La ingratitud del hombre y la desnuda realidad,” Obras Completas, ibidem, p. 398.

[21] Fredric Jameson, quoted in Yúdice, George, “Postmodernity and Transnational Capitalism in Latin America,” (p. 16). In this article, Yúdice presents a Latinamericanist,  differencialist reading of the synthetic renditions of contemporary aesthetics (modernity, postmodernity, allegorical national narrative for the Third World, etc.) in explicit disagreement with Jameson. There is no strong and dynamic historical background (no inspirational presence of the Baroque) for either.

“Spain is an American Nation;” So Says the Foreign Prince in the Boston Area.

“Spain is an American Nation;” So Says the Foreign Prince in the Boston Area.

By Fernando Gomez Herrero, fgh2173@gmail.com.

 

Introductory Quote:

 

The Monarch is not the privileged point at which the State becomes fully aware of itself, of its own nature and spiritual content, the Monarch is rather an idiot who merely supplies the purely formal aspect of “This is my will! So be it!,” to a content imposed on it from outside ((Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (London, New York: Verso, 2012): p. 407.

 

Introduction.

At point-blank range, an early question: What do we really talk about when we talk about vicissitudes of the Spanish language and we circumscribe them, and perhaps you may think that perversely so, to the immediate circumstance of the United States of America, the self-styled land of the free and home of the brave as in the national anthem? I am concerned here with smaller variation games of the big game of global-dimension geopolitics, if you wish, with markers such as “culture” and “identity” and “language” as excuse and pretext. To answer in the abstract general manner the initial question: well, we talk about capitalism, or the market, about private and corporate and more general or public interests, and one must include the nation-state realm and other realms or domains, and of ethnicities or “races” around those languages, Spanish and English mostly in this case, and one cannot do without the other near affiliations and belongings, and plural forms of strangement, distancing, and disaffiliation as well. Other themes have to do with the strategic uses of the vehicle of the Monarchy apropos the second-language status of Spanish in the U.S., in the vicinity of branding and cultural sourcing, and the mirrors of misrecognition being held up medium-height by the officials of the medium-size nation-state in a foreign mission and perhaps higher by the managers of the corporation acting in the quality of experienced, perhaps gracious hosts. You do not need to be reminded about continentalities of thick silence as well.

If the question is indeed more than important, vital, at least to some commonwealth out there, call it the intellectual or the academic type, I hope, the betrayal of such thick silence in what follows will hopefully do some damage, and for the better, to the units officially providing coverage of the modern, second, minority or foreign language in question always already inside a big piece of real estate (and there will be two levels, the big, proud nation and the big and also proud corporation) that still shows no strong disposition to bi- or multi-lingualism. Allegorically, imagine a big fussy, hidebound if not blindfolded horse, huffing and puffing while trying to hit the many adjectives in the sentence and the wild linguistic Spanish flies with the tail. In what follows I am sharing the square circle with the bad smelly horse and the many flies so to speak, and I would also like to provide a bit of extra summer decoration, the NBC coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Games, giving virtually no space to anything that may distract from number-one “America” speaking the language of happy corporate interests with sports as the excuse. You should not worry that I will be bringing it all down to the favorite topic of university education, not fundamentally different from commodified athleticism and instrumentalized patriotism, an immensely fragile linguistic house of mono-lingual being when you come to think of it, an alliterative jingoism built mostly upon ad hoc copyright images and consequently very deleterious and entirely normalized, at least on the “America” side of the Atlantic. Do a double-take at your earliest convenience and feel free to let me know how many continents there are out there, while I hurriedly point the finger in the direction of the lack of the official status of English in the U.S. (see, “Mr. King’s English-Only Bill,” www.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/opinion/representative-kings-english-only-bill.html, Editorial, August 9, 2012), emphatically not meaning a freer and braver acceptability of diverse linguistic possibilities, also inside houses of higher learning, with or without the prophetic inscription “Open ye the Gates that the Righteous Nation which keepeth the Truth may enter (Isaiah 26.2) above the gates of the main quad of the institution of global brand-name recognition directly implicated in what follows. Quite the reverse of such official plurality of tongues is true in true fact, also incongruously in relation to the official ideology of plurality defended by liberalism and this is perhaps the paradoxical de facto or de iure re-affirmation of English and its undisputed totem-and-taboo status, still enforcing the repressive culture and a no fly-zone to any language of any epistemic significance that may come near, and Spanish is near, but we will presently see in what manner. It is my experience that the official status of a language, any language, or of anything else for that matter, is not immediately understandable and hence apparent to my fellow Americans, corporate privatizations and public deteriorations have something to do with the normality of unawareness, commodifications of language and reifications of thought, but also of rigidifications and lack of memory, desire and care, leaving no language behind).

Speaking of language/s is of course speaking of many other things as well, of ontology, totality and even grandiloquently of the tongue appropriate to the House of Being, the most appropriate ceremonialism of the global stadium, camp and kitsch tout court in the last London 2012 Olympic Games’ closing ceremony if you wish, but also of plural subjectivities, histories, landscapes, of blindness and insight. It is still my sense that the American variety of the English language is a language largely broken down from within and against its own rich philological origin and trajectory, and the original insight is Fredric Jameson’s, always already colonized by the jerky and spasmodic rhythms of commercialism, cut-up technique of technological impetus, discontinuities and anti-historical deformations also hitting the smaller sister, Spanish, how could it not?, inside the narrow-institutional, foreign-language pedagogic rabbit and pigeon holes. American culture: business culture and the referentiality of the dominant language is first and foremost with commodities to be bought and sold, the conventional mouthpiece eloquently testifying to the totality of such narrow horizon of naturalized capitalism (modisms such as the customer is always right, to buy/sell an idea, there is no free lunch, to feel like a million dollars, no business like show business, etc. attesting to the proof of the eating of the capitalist pudding: good appetite!).

The American English language detaches itself in a sense from its historical evolution, think “philology,” but the disciplinary noun is very uncommon in the U.S., and clings to the latest birth of this or that gadget erasing –and this is the crucial part I want to emphasize—whatever else may have occupied its place in the timespace of the historical imagination collapsing those dimensions with little or no trace. Just look at how the natives navigate diverse geographies and various time zones and how they meet around the ubiquity of brand names, more Apple than George Washington on the historic park, more McDonalds than Paul Revere, more Red Sox or even Patriots (American) football players than Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry James and the founder of the Boston Public Library, George Ticknor, or any of the hundred of old names of artists, thinkers and intellectuals in the grand European tradition inscribed in the exterior walls of such library. The most recent technology of the GPS exacerbates this moving through an abstract geography of colorful lines and dots, strings and arrows, against the receding background of commemorative street and names of squares and common, public areas, virtually unintelligible and left mostly for the curiosity of the flying pigeons. It is the demise of the old canonical forms, any forms really, that I am here underlining, since there will be something of a bit of an unconventional historical lesson being presented by an official representative of a medium-size nation over here. And the wholesale debilitation, if not collapse of the historical sensibility is a theme more serious than may appear at first glance, you may or may not think of diachronic dimensions strictly in linguistic terms or in academic courses currently when academic positions of historical expertise have already disappeared in majority of institutions, and the situation is dramatic for “Spanish,” the celebration of the “new” and the “modern” being in most cases little more than obliviousness, ignorance and lack of care, but you may want to do your own experiments and test your favorite natives in relation to the etymology of your favorite toponyms and old names of favorite people in relation to your most meaningful habitat in your favorite timespace and see what happens. There is the debilitation of nativism, I suppose that is what I am initially emphasizing, in relation to some global circulation of “cultural sourcing,” whenever and wherever it may be found most useful for the immediate interests at hand, but some are more equal than others and there are still walls, boundaries and business cards by the official inscriptions, logos, mottos and flags across the Atlantic in between “Roma la chica” and “the Athens of America,” and the cliff-hanger will be resolved momentarily, I promise. The dazzling mutation of stores and business enterprises in the always demanding piece of global real estate of the city of New York City is one extreme case of the generalized tendency in such mutability  (and how eagerly would you go back to live in the vast semi-urban sections of the American geography?). The virtual, digital computer world, the world of the world wide web say, exacerbates a strong tendency for the evaporation of geography and the thinning out of chronology, yielding to the totalitarianism of marketplace ubiquity –All that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity, the eloquence of the “old” book by Marshall Berman, recreating the Marxist line about the drastic untying of social relations under capitalist conditions. I am initially identifying the particular American intensity of such market identity of social relations, also in relation to language use. I still cannot forget the crudity of the television program “Do You Speak American?,” by Robert McNeil for PBS (www.pbs.org/speak); but in general the recent CBS coverage of the Olympic Games: do not expect one too many fussy philologists of the historical inclination here.

Did You Say the Spanish Apple in the Eye of Whom?

It may feel like a detour in relation to the Spanish core of interest in these pages, the apple in the critical eye say, written in relation to the unexpected visit of a foreign Prince in the business of Spanish-language promotion in the land of the free and the home of the brave. If so, it is a good one in relation to the aforementioned institutional cage, where still some birds sing, and I am recreating a famous line by the African-American poet of some fame, but how and why must this time take us in the direction of the majority vote of customers and consumers, barely reaching grammaticality status, inside the thinning of academic and university requirements. Yes, the foreign Prince represented a light-touch, soft-focus, “soft-power” approach to language, foreign and second, but also modern and big-numbers, and many other things that come with it.

Spanish is yes, desirable, perhaps, but it is not required, it is increasingly less text, as in the “text-rich” expression in the context of digital modalities, almost always a pejorative expression, and more image-based and even film-propelled. It is “modern,” you bet, and nothing but modern, since there is receding offering of “antiquities,” the modern already won the fight against the ancient peoples, and it is foreign, and the Prince was right on target here, and it is second, but not officially, and it is also minority, with all the connotations around the label, and such is the quadruple status (modern foreign second minority) of the Spanish language in the United States and critical, biting knowledge must surely be happening, like good sex, somewhere like the grass in the saying is greener on the other side of the fence (and your gallows humor will learn to jump the beautiful fences and tall walls and the charm of the (petty) bourgeoisie and also the quadruple-bypass surgery in relation to what is to follow). But the American history. I am about to tell is already out of date by the time this writing sees the light of day.

A survivalist argument I hear, and there are many others I do not hear any longer, goes along the lines of what the business culture calls “localization;” that is, one has to get close to the idiosyncracies of the various constituencies and the peculiarities of the various stakeholders in specific or identifiable environments so that your product sells better (you drink tequila with the Mexicans and sherry with the Andalusians, and tea with the English, making sure you remember to distinguish the drinks and the peoples if mixing happens, preferably). The large horizon is the market share Spanish-speakers represent, typically future-oriented. And how enthusiastically are we sold on the idea –how do you like the Americanism of the verb expression?– of profitability inside the hegemonic horizon of buying-and-selling in the first place? The labor market, with an emphasis on the academic market, will come solicitous to disabuse you of the enterprising enthusiasm that scholars and academics of foreign extraction have not yet mastered to this day (it is second nature of the Americans to do this marketing better, the corporate capitalizing on the sign “America,” the number-one approach say, and this is emphatically not something to be automatically celebrated, not even in the Olympic-Games context). The arts-and-crafts of glad-handing do not come easy to the otherwise genial and loquacious Spanish representations in low or high places and it is my double- nationality status which allows me to poke in the ribs of the Spaniards, ever so gently, about language-promotion, a hard-sell in the United States now as it probably was a century ago. In fact Spain is the only nationality I have seen doing such Spanish-language-promotion in public in the context of the U.S., and I wish to address the enterprising dimensions of the hows and whys of such emprendimiento (I am poking fun at the recent grotesque tergiversation of the euphemism, from “emprendedor,” in the vicinity of “empresa,” and “empresario” typically a youthful, informal or irregular business variety, devoted to new technologies and social networks, and yet avoiding the synchronic connotations of corrupt capitalism, particularly in the dates when this writing is taking place; similar terms have apparently already made an entrance into the target language in question, according to some paper of record (“cooperantes” and “rescates,” and the curious one of “friky,” from freak; what to say but “Biutiful!,”as the deliberate meaningful misspelling of the last film by González Iñárritu and Bardem apropos a sordid life not only in Barcelona). Again, what I am doing at the beginning of these pages is setting up the scene for a meaningful engagement with the collapse of the structure of meaning and care apropos Spanish, coming from the outside if you wish in relation to the distinguished guest in an official visit if you wish, but also mostly from within inside academic environments. The self-imposed task: never let an untrue mode of knowledge run away into an empty nothing. I will describe the specific visit parsing the official speech of the foreign Prince with some care. I will later expand in the second half excessively, even philosophically if you wish, feel free to underline the second uncommon adverb, refusing to limit myself to predictabilities of Spanish domain, so to speak. I wish to “tarry with the negative” so to speak, seeking intelligibility, if not a more coherent narrative of meaning, call it sociologies of knowledge production with a focus on university settings, that is becoming increasingly difficult, if not altogether impossible in the immediate society in which I live, call it “American” if you wish, at least for the time being. The aforementioned dual-nationality status includes the two main languages in question, English and Spanish, which I for one do not intend to give up. Yet I am mostly concerned with uneven institutional processes including both, mostly in university settings, and inevitably with but processes of degradations and de-institutionalizations, which is where we may be, at least for the time being. Here, there is no beginning and ending to the lack of mirth. And this is how my intellectual life starts.

If You Have a Good Prince, Make Good Use of Him, I Suppose.

If you have a good Prince, presentable in high society and decent, ready at hand, you might as well use him, probably for the promotion of business interests, typically wrapped around the mast of a national flag (and how many Americans will recognize the Spanish flag?). A more colorful Prince, and perhaps even better an indecent and shameless Princess, might theoretically also do with a different marketing strategy in different venues, in relation to “edgier” products, etc. Say or do anything you like as long as you spell the name of the product right in this case in the vicinity of the well-behaved Prince, born only four days after my birthday, he is one year older than me, of thus also Aquarius, considerably taller, probably better fed, not better educated, and not better looking than me and I am sure the complicity of most readers on both shores will be wrapped around the finger of the necessary levity of tone since we are dealing with matters of importance that will not be fixed the day of tomorrow. Again, I want always to presume the ideal society of concern and care about such signs of “language” and “culture,” and the sign “literature” is always already trailing behind.

It is always a good exercise to compare and contrast how different nations play business interests internationally with or without strong state support (it is difficult to imagine the American counterpoint of what I am about to describe in some detail, but I am sure there are American business interests being used in all sorts of parts of the world and all sorts of ways). The national “localization” must be a necessity, particularly when there is some name recognition at the American street level, and here most nationalities, except perhaps the ones in one hand, hold hands and find themselves in the typical basket of American ignorance of geographical knowledge of the world at large, but there is nothing personal since this is also the case for domestic complexity. Spain, the one foreign nationality that is going to take center stage shortly is no exception in the nation that calls itself typically American (my fellow Americans are surely not used to witnessing enthusiastic celebrations of foreign nations, one must say, and the Olympic Games is one such rare occasion in which all nations go at it together so to speak, and it is here that a strong provincialism flies fast and furious in the corporate tail of brand interests). It is not particularly provocative to say the U.S. remain profoundly provincial in its world dealings, including the cultural level of consumption of films, books and music, but also of sports and entertainment for example, and this must perhaps change alongside all other products, food, clothing, computer gadgets coming from afar; but there are surely strong interests in the vicinity trying to keep American customers and consumers limited inside blind alleys of narrow consumer choice and customer predilection. Education is peculiar commodity caught in between insourcing of cheap foreign labor, and recently importation of students from Asia and the outsourcing of the “American model” (read: privatization) for example to venerable Europe, where it is not exactly being applauded, but also elsewhere, and perhaps even with applause. You would think the globality of the marketplace of peoples and goods might foster if not multi-linguality, at least an appreciation of plurality of codes, and perhaps even of linguistic sophistication, but this is not really the case as far as I can make out on this side of the Atlantic, near Bean Town, nickname of the city of Boston, which is where this writing is taking place, in relation to the main event that happened not far, yet on the other side of the river Charles, or Carlos, an easy subway ride in the red line that will put you in the Harvard University setting in the city of Cambridge.

Here, the foreign (read: non-English) language offering of (cultural) products remain horrendously poor. Universities remain largely mono-lingual environments inside which the foreign-language sections are huddled, but not with the masses, in the dubious tradition of impecunious fragility and foggy-to-poor-to-zero visibility. There is a tin-can deafness accordingly around which the choral plurality of voices about anything under the (political, cultural, historical) sun is left largely undamaged by University intervention, and perhaps this is a blessing in disguise (cute administrations used to call a certain attitude “benign neglect,” after New York Senator Patrick Moynihan).  Big universities cut in between private and public domains are no fundamentally different from small-liberal arts colleges in the identical capitalist modus operandi.  Education institutions are also not essentially, or drastically different from other domains having market forces passing through its precincts, apparently unimpeded. The radical thought I want to entertain consistently is the identity of the university setting, with all its cultural or disciplinary offerings, and the supermarkets where you can get your favorite brand of cornflakes or olives or electronic devices in a gesture that I will submit to you is increasingly as camp as a row of tents, at least for those who can afford the acquisition of such goods, also artistic (the predominant aesthetic of the closing spectacle of the London 2012 Olympic Games was camp, so it is not only the Americans doing it). In the name of what then to want to uphold the dividing line between culture, art, education, knowledge and its negated signs or negative markers (non-culture, non-art, non-education, non-knowledge)?

I have written a previous culture bite in which I acknowledge Clement Greenberg for the equation of academicism and kitsch and perhaps later I will learn to differentiate between the two modalities of camp and kitsch. For the time being, I want to maintain the deliberate exaggeration and equation, aiming at a certain mood and mode, fast and light, embedded in the offering of Spanish, one type of educational good or knowledge commodity among others included in the current American market, including the academic-labor market of virtually no name recognition in the U.S. in the Obama moment in the new century (think university job market, but also mass-media options, music  and entertainment industry, Spanish-language books and magazines produced in the U.S., professional job requirements in corporate, business settings, utopias of Spanish specialization in libraries and museums, etc.). I cannot resist the temptation of mentioning one perfect “objective correlative” of the kitsch-and-camp academic conditioning in the U.S., the mashed-potato snack offered to faculty and staff in tacky-plastic cocktail glass during the lifeless Christmas holiday in the lifeless institution, with no alcohol since there are children around, and the cookie-cutter desserts surrounded by empty cardboard boxes in bright colors surrounded by fleeting collection of colleagues who had nothing to say –almost like victims of post-traumatic stress disorder incapable of meaningful language of revolt– inside the institutional cage of eminently docile sociability against the historic dry town where the very liberal arts college was located and inside which Spanish occupied a pitiful place of negligible importance and zero migration, where it did not matter and will never matter since such college life was cut out pocket of relative privilege in barely livable and degrading environments of post-industrial, semi-abandoned American life.

This is perhaps one extreme example of the happy nightmare of American life, mostly devoted to the containment of social energies and still high up in the official rankings, mind you.  I could also mention public institutions left behind by federal and state funding where the majority of students, of lower-middle-class, non- or ethnic-white extraction, a sizeable proportion of them with Hispanic last names, and fractured Spanish, are barely literate in one or both American languages, but here it would be the ground-zero ground, or the lack, of the objective correlative, not even the tacky cocktail cup to the silly mashed potato, supreme camp-and-kitsch, but I am wondering about the intentionality of it all, which becomes the most meaningful aspect of something of what I am trying to articulate in somewhat light vein about the academic Spanish conditioning inside conventional American institutions of higher learning, not only its systematic containment and degradation from within, to the point that the functional and pragmatic levels are barely above the stereotype and simple-sentence grammaticality. The English language does not present a fundamentally different situation for the vast majority of the student population and also its education professionals.

In other words: the bare living of Spanish in the majority of places of higher education that I have witnessed, and I have witnessed a few, against the desolate landscape of the “foreign languages,” a bastard label if there ever was one, rubbing against the raw nerve of the conventional history of mono-lingual assimilation that constitutes the normality of the U.S., is also barely making a dent in the American-university fabric, at least for now. There is a strategy of degradation of the humanities and of containment of Spanish within such degradation inside a nation inside which anti-intellectualism runs fast, far and thick (other nations have their own national varieties of the same, of course, but remember that the immediate circumstance is the deliberate narrow focus of these pages). In other words, the bare living of academic or institutional Spanish in the U.S. is the “perfect” mirror image facing up to the vindication words of the foreign Prince, and not in the original Spanish, on its behalf. In a certain sense the Harvard event I will be describing shortly exemplifies the almost negligible penetration of the decaying welfare-state of the foreign nation, and of the social-democracy model embedded in the medium-size nation-state pushing ‘soft-power” or ‘cultural’ goods if ever so discreetly overseas at the perceived core of global education influence, and one could question the wisdom of the choice, also made to represent the global empire of the U.S., geopolitics and popular culture, inevitably tied up to the global lingua franca of the English language, still at a moment of tremendous crisis of the two nation-states directly involved, of gradual mutations in big-game geopolitics, profound instability in capitalism and liquidity problems, also having an obvious impact in institutions of higher education. The Spaniards were bringing a fundamental message of business collaboration and historical proximity –against conventional U.S. narratives of national cultural identity—and they were doing it in the space of the prestigious brand-name education corporation acting, I suppose, in a sense as intermediary and platform to reach the larger stages, the world-global stage and also the national-federal dimension, and less so the immediate Massachusetts dimension of modest significance outside the U.S. despite or because of being the revolutionary point of reference and official-national origin for the U.S. But there are too many levels, layers and dimensions here, as well as interests. Yet it is still, I think, fair to say that the U.S. dimension has never been friendly to universalism such as universal health coverage, or universal education, and the retreat of the federal and state institutions from funding responsibilities, most evidently in public education in Massachusetts, turns into the debilitation of the historic meaning of the “commonwealth,” be it Massachusetts or elsewhere.  Americanization may still be valid short name for such process of de-socialization and privatization of public social goods. It is here that the denunciation of Spanish barely making a living makes a lot of sense. In so doing, I am also shattering the adopted code of silence, in my opinion not only a bad symptom of institutional fragility but a mistaken survival strategy. I find myself wanting to hold on however to the notion of anachronism, other times and other places, and not only in relation to the European institution of the Monarchy, clearly at odds with the U.S. and Latin America, historically republican dimensions that came into being after rejecting such institution for themselves. The official representative of the foreign nation, the Monarchy receiving the qualifier of constitutional, shows up in the U.S. with something of the old-world charm, but it must be a brief visit that will vanish quickly (the English Monarchy is more of a reference in the U.S., but not much more either, and it would be almost unimaginable to have an English equivalent of such an English-language promotion, obviously in the U.S., but also perhaps in other nations; English defends itself very well alone, thank you very much).  One should never get one’s knickers twisted in the Spanish or the English games in between the nationalities involved, two at least directly, since horrendously big intercontinental dimensions are inevitably summoned in various ways as well. Never say never?

Even if language is not the be-all and end-all of official events, I will be focusing on the main speech delivered at Harvard University in the famous “same” city on both sides of the Charles River, Cambridge and Boston, affectionately called Bean Town. Language still matters and “being” is still caught up in this “house,” whether you have a predilection for European philosophy or not. Provocatively, turn to the initial quotation of the philosopher of Slovenian origin: The Monarch is not the privileged point of self-awareness, of perfect form-content delivery of what matters. Quite the opposite, we are dealing with the representational role, euphemistic and well-meaning, what else in such a public act of diplomacy?, of a collaborative content imposed on the anachronistic institution of the Monarchy from the outside, call it capitalism in the relative periphery in spaces of relative visibility and lately of serious crisis. This time the second banana, the next in line of succession, the Prince, is signifying in a foreign land and he is doing so idiotically in Zizek’s language, and you should focus on the social function, nothing personal, in relation to the specific individual in question, Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos (et omnes sancti) de Borbón y de Grecia.

I do not know about you but I do not often get to see a decent, cordial, presentable, foreign Prince in the flesh, let alone a fetching Princess within arms’ reach. The fortuitous occasion was the entering and exiting through the international brand-name recognition of prestigious university education, call it by the brand name of Harvard University on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, historically not the colonial core of the historical settlement in the city of Boston. The quick visit happened in the off-season of the institution, during the summer time. It aroused some curiosity among the American natives. Not much. There was no big aftermath that I could sense. If there ever was one, I was not invited. And why should I have been? The event I witnessed has the main event of the speech delivered in semi-public fashion by the Prince at the Kennedy School of Government. Why not the “proper” auditorium or the lounge in Boylston Hall, associated with names such as George Ticknor, Henry Longfellow and James Russell Lowell, where the Spanish section is officially situated in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures? (these proper names have discreet name recognition inside Boston, Cambridge, Massachusetts and the U.S., much less outside, there were not included in the speech and I doubt most self-styled lovers of all things Spanish would cling to them fast and furious, not even Richard Kagan and James D. Fernandez who will show up later in this writing). Would not such building have been more congruous with the full content of the speech? I am sure there is some type of logistical explanation.

Fortunately, there was ample camera on display during the session for the curiosity of the world, and also live-video streaming posted on the start page of the Kennedy School of Government site. It was taken down the next day and it proved impossible, at least to this virtual traveler in the following days but who was still however fortunate enough to witness it live. There is some record of it: a student article in the Harvard Gazette authored by Corydon Ireland (news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/06/royal-views). If the live feel is ephemeral and it is gone sooner than you blink, the texts in English and Spanish however surfaced a couple of days later in the official site of the Casa de Su Majestad el Rey de España (www.casareal.es). I loved some of this interconnectedness and I figured what type of infrastructure will require for really big events, say a Hollywood blockbuster, a really big rock group, the marketing of the latest digital gadget. “Brand Spain” (Marca España) and the promotion of the Spanish language is infinitely more modest by comparison. The revolving corporate door moved allowing some circulation and some visibility to the noted guest and his train. Circumstantial evidence may lean toward the temporary conclusion that the words were mostly not intended for the “natives” of Massachusetts, Cambridge and Bostonia put together mind you, or even of the U.S., but fundamentally perhaps for the foreign nationals officially represented by the Prince back home out there on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. One funny anecdote at my expense had it that I mentioned at the end of a dinner with the coffee and dessert how glad I was to leave behind the Midwest and to return to civilization back in the good old East Coast, with which I am not in love mind you, and there was plenty of irony in it, only to be boohed by participants at the same institution, who, I must say, did in effect decide to stay and not to go back to the middle of nowhere where they are coming from. The point being that you may never know who is going to be sharing a room or a department with you inside the never warm institutional walls. And one may extrapolate this in relation to the official speech surely intended for more than one audience, mostly I suppose to those interpelated by the sign Spanish, those who may want to claim it a mother tongue and the object of love and affection, even study, and no doubt also concern and distress. And I would guess the audience was 50-50 in this regard, but perhaps I am being generous. Still, the speech amounted to polite words of encouragement inside the American frame, a pep-talk even, a “we” are the good thing, “American” too, a bit like Kennedy was a Berliner while passing through Berlin in a specific moment in history, and only a melody-deaf and obdurate English-monolingual can be surprised to hear the ontological claim that the foreign nation is indeed part and parcel of who we (say we) are (if we are American, how come they make the outrageous claim to be us too inside our own house of ontological being?).

But, the speech was mostly for the rest of the whole wide world, at least via the world wide web, with or without the abundant television camera display taping the speech event. There are two text versions, a good-quality English version, the one read, and the original Spanish with some flavorful adjectives, and bilinguals with an interest in such matters may wish to compare and contrast.

 

Your migrant humanistic intelligence will not therefore go easy or univocal on the issue of Spanish, the issue of faithfulness to national origin and belonging, or any other issue for that matter. In fact, I will close down with other possibilities for knowledge production that may or may not survive in the current crisis inside university settings on both sides of the Atlantic. One leaves national precincts for very good reasons, precarious job prospect is one very good and very rough reason, and you will not be glad how they remain operative in the land of Uncle Sam negatively in the vicinity of the funny signs of “Spanish” and “culture,” which was the explicit frame of the foreign Prince’s speech. So this is about the reconstruction of the discursive and a ceremonial case of inter- or transnationalism apropos a medium-size nation-state represented by the institution of the Monarchy in the home of the brave, specifically in the New England location of postcolonial independence, in the state of Massachusetts, the native ground so to speak, not too far from the Atlantic waters, near the city of Boston, affectionately called Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe), The Cradle of Liberty, and of Modern America, The Athens of America, The Walking City, but more seriously on the other side of the Charles river, the Cambridge side say, where the prestigious  house of learning still sits. That was the site of symbolic production that the foreign Prince and his team were trying to hit, call it the site of brand-name educational prestige of international name recognition, and travel through with it, or carry it with them in their backpacks so to speak, smiling in the shop-windows, jumping politely in the jumping boards and diving into its platforms, to try to reach the “oceanic feeling” (the expression was originally Freud’s for the religious feeling) of some kind of global bonding and smooth type of transnationalism, which of course hardly ever or never happens. We are thus dealing with official negotiations apropos symbolic productions appertaining to national imaginaries, most concretely, Spain and the U.S., against a Latin American background that was invoked more than once. But we are also dealing with corporate take-over of branding language and nation. In what follows, I will be taking a few forks of roads taken by the foreign Prince and inevitably take others neglected by him.

Brand Spain: A Tough Sell in the U.S. of A.

The business meaning of the assumed strategy of Spanish-language promotion will be with us for the rest of the article and the intelligent reader must immediately take note of two opposing forces, nationalization and internationalization, this time in relation to the specific label of “brand Spain” (I am sure other national brands may be imagined functioning differently). One may imagine a world of transnational corporation inside which nationality matters up to a point, the main point being sourcing goods and services, and peoples, maximizing profits in between costs and supply transactions, while refusing to stay put in any one year of profits or losses, but also in relation to any one geography for ever and ever. And yet there is “localization” as the business language has it, the making sure that the customer and consumer will find the product and this is no easy task for the American consumer and customer with a notorious poor command of geography and chronology, but that is why portable GPS devices are here held firmly in the hands.

 

And one can also imagine diverse mechanisms operating within such marketplace type of world, social belongings, affiliations, regionalizations against globalizations, vernacularisms, ethnicities, yes, languages and cultures, and perhaps some literatures, or more manageable and smaller scales of social energies against some kind of vague and undifferentiated generality of consumption in the global mall (the zombie films of George Romero exemplify some of this nightmare). Yet, are we fundamentally talking about different ethnicities playing the same capitalistic game in different time zones and different locations? One can think of big units (the world “continentalism,” predictably with the adjective new attached to it, has recently hit my radar almost in the manner of pigeons flying in the direction of the rising of Eurasia, far away from Prince Felipe’s transatlantic core of endeavors) versus smithereens and fragmentations into smaller units (nations, regions, quasi-federal “historical-nations” arrangements of smaller nations, for example Spain, vis-à-vis a federal nation such as the United Nations of America, also imperial, and the strangeness of the name should hit the glasses almost immediately in the fictional equivalence: United States of Europe, and you will remember how our German (-American) colleagues self-style themselves as European studies whereas other national representatives are “condemned” to use smaller national labels, metonymically speaking). And then there is the motley crue of consumers and customers in the global supermarket seeking their individual needs, inclinations, interests.

So all of this I consider while I took a walk in the Boston Commons by the 300-hundred commemorative plaque quoting John Winthrop and William Bradford, in the times of Mayor James Michael Curly, with the names of architect Charles Allerton Coolidge and the sculptor John Francis Paramino. I wonder what type of imagery the 400-hundred anniversary will deliver and whether I will be around to see it. And some of this must surely be relevant in relation to the concrete Harvard speech event to be described presently, the proverbial bird in the hand so to speak, and its repercussions, the thousand birds flying above Cambridge and Bostonia, the ancient Roman nomenclature of the city founded in 1630 with the official mottos, “Civitatis Regimine Donata A.D. 1822 / Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis” (The design was sketched by John R. Penniman. The motto is taken from 1 Kings viii: 57. It is translated as “God be with us as he was with our fathers”). The seal first shown on page 221 of the Volume of Laws and Ordinances, commonly known as the “First Revision,” published in 1827. It is established as the City Seal at the present time by Revised Ordinances of 1914, Chapter I, Section 5). So, this must account for immediate history about which the corporation may or may not care much. I am wondering how many of the participants to the event I witnessed would feel at home with the Latin (www.cityofboston.gov/visitors/about/cityseal.asp). I bet money at least some in the train of the foreign Prince. None of this immediate history was however included in the alternative history lesson delivered by the foreign Prince in relation to the historical deformations of “Spanish” in the home of the brave. Yet, there is some daring in the deed.

And how do you think the dignitaries of the provinces inside the imperial zone will behave on the East-Coast American time zone of these Atlantic shores, if not diplomatically? What else would they offer but business cooperation, going along in international matters, and a bit of a corrective history lesson, plus the desirability, think ornamentation, of their foreign literature and language and culture, but not too much of it? In the prepared speech of the Prince, there was the attempt at the intertwining of the two nations, not conventionally intertwined intimately in both national imaginaries. The comparison is structurally very asymmetrical or very uneven, even unfair since we are dealing with the still remaining sole global superpower and one of the “provinces” of the Euro-zone currently undergoing severe turbulence. I happen to think there is more often than not more mirror of misrecognition than anything else between the national representatives of each country facing each other, and the degree of penetration of popular-culture Americana wins handsomely over the other way round of Spanish products circulating in the U.S.

Yet, the foreign Prince was not addressing his counterparts in the U.S. political structure, but selected members of the community of the prestigious corporation devoted to the business of education, Harvard University, and selected expatriates in the larger Boston area. The institutional choice merits some underlining: the priority of strategy of the U.S., and the choice of Harvard University as beacon brand name of education-and-government prestige across the global within which Spanish is not, by any stretch of the historical imagination, a strong point of reference institutionally, particularly not in the year of the visit in question. In this strictly descriptive sense, the immediate institution is not exceptional against the largest landscape of American institutions of higher learning inside which Spanish is typically offered in regular curriculum offerings. Making it both ways enhances the relative strangeness of the scene: a relatively young representative of the foreign nation-state in his official representational capacity addresses a mixed audience inside the corporate institution seeking bi-national mutual interests. In tinkering with blind spots, so doing, there is promotion of the second-language when what is behind is business interests. The event may well have coincided with a change in guard in the Real Colegio Complutense /Harvard collaboration and the appointing of the new director, José Manuel Martínez Sierra, also Director of the USA-Spain Scientific and Academic Network Research Group. The direct link with the host institution: Faculty Associate of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Such housing is relevant in relation to two or three things that are to follow.

The ally, perhaps the client state is too harsh a phrasing if you please, speaks of the best intentions, of harmony and collaboration, with a bit of historical correction. And yet the diplomatic exercise cannot stop and linger in the particularity of interest of the moderate-size (foreign) nation, which is also a generic label that is here made to coincide with interests probably listed in the direction of the Chamber of Commerce, as the crow flies. But who would pay attention otherwise to the marginal province inside the vastness of the “Roman Empire” particularly now when the center of U.S. attention in the larger Eurasia continent, while both nations are undergoing massive transformations and erosions, a whirlwind of economic woes, budget cuts here and there, fiscal meltdown, weak economy and unemployment, wars going the other side of right, a crisis in self-confidence, and disorientation in relation to a social model that called itself number one in the history of the world, as least since the end of WWII? Remember the initial question: What do we really talk about when we talk about the Spanish language in the U.S.? When in Rome, do as the Romans…? Prince Felipe did some of the re-assurance of faith, with the emphasis on some, not in vain he has spent time on these shores and studied here, at Georgetown University, the “Hoyas” alluded to in some tone of captatio benevolentia which is old Latin for easy American introductory levity at the beginning of the speech (the nickname apparently coming from a mix of Greek and Latin, “Hoya Saxa” meaning “What Rocks,” which gained popularity in the school in the end of the nineteenth century, please be aware that this is Wikipedia information). In the vicinity of Jack the Bulldog, the New-England Cambridge cream of the Harvard crop remained proper-Bostonian polite, with a barely perceptible smile. The foreign nationals do not really do university mascots.

Prince Felipe’s speech handled tactfully a conventional anti-historicism typically informing or even deforming America’s self-identity beginning with its name appropriation that seizes the tail of the union inside the part of the whole continent, a European misnomer mind you, and shrinks it and breaks it down into two portions, and naturalizes it forgetting about the process and broadcasts it to the whole wide world in popular or mass culture mostly, and the rest is history (the trick is to go back-and-forth between the corporate domain and the larger (national) “imagined community” being interpellated, here the United States of America and Spain, and all others by implication, and how these two terms are obviously not identical, self-explanatory and self-sufficient, nor should their invocation move you instantly in the speeches delivered by the tongue and lips of the  state officials, much less the corporate managers). The tinkering with the national nomenclature may be a lost battle in some cases, but it is a battle always worth fighting for (i.e. the historical strangeness of the very name of the United States of America as previously mentioned against the European impositions of most toponyms in the larger American dimension). The gist of the content of the speech is however the international projection of Spain, always plus ultra, as the imperial motto has it at least since Charles The Fifth in English (The First in Spanish). Ultreya, utrella, or onward, the encouragement sign among those pilgrims in the medieval route called the Camino de Santiago from Roncesvalles to Compostella in the Iberian peninsula, or the field of stars beyond which there is the end of the world or Finisterre, and beyond America, or the Americas, alluded to by Prince Felipe, still somewhat unconventional in the plural  in the American idiom and as odd in Spanish as the plural Spains or the Españas.

Again, there is obviously some intentional ambiguity in the title of “Spain: An American Nation,” going against the conventional expectations of a few good monolingual English-speakers (if “America” is us, how come they claim to be us?). Projection is implied, and multi-directionality will add other adjectives to the national self-definition in the lips of the Monarch (African, European, Asian, and less so Australian, Antarctica does not count as much, and one of the few questions opened this can of worms theoretically possibility (What about an African nation? Yes, of course it is also an African nation, Phoenician origins, Etruscan, etc.). The moment one adopts that the U.S. is not the whole but part of the sign America, the “game” changes entirely, and this is the standard cognitive mechanism still functional in the Spanish language (Incidentally, I want you to notice the animated graph of Wikipedia under the entry of “continent;” 4-5-6-7 options “according to convention and model,” which is very open and liberal-optional, so the suggestion in the remaining pages is to address this animation as forcefully as possible with no final solutions). In a devilish light spirit, ask your average American how to square the seven continents with the Olympic rings… and watch them looking around the stadium floor for two more most probably hiding in the dark out there and away from the artificial light of the stadium lamp posts.

There is a banal way of addressing this, pick your convention so to speak, and look at the menu of options, and there is a more serious, sustained and studied one: we are dealing with historical constellations and clashes, and this is never a matter of picking one style of shirt, red, today and another one, say blue, tomorrow. The type of event I attended was not going to address anything of substance forcefully, meaningfully. The institution of the constitutional or representational Monarchy is not designed to do such intellectual thing. This was a diplomatic mission seeking to secure a toethold of a different kind of meaningfulness in the beachfront of cold, moving sands in the North-Western Coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The speech was never meant to be white paper or blue print. The institution of the Monarchy is no think tank and its pedagogic and educational impulse has to take second step to a more national-representational function as abstract, light or devoid of content as possible (the Borbons are also hardly ever an intellectual family historically). Still, I must say that the Prince’s delivery was proper and graceful, the speech carefully put together, and there was educational value, even humanistic values, in the pro-business intervention (call it soft-power approach when everything else conceivable may be less forthcoming: religious, civilizational, democratic, ethnic appeals, what about basking in sports triumphs, say world football of the Spanish national team in relation to a sport mostly for girls and not assumed to be high in the agenda in the U.S.?). The ideological substratum was and is liberal-value and market-economy goodness, and the current times can only be approached obliquely, as in the very short Question-and-Answer period. Still, I insist: there is merit in the speech, which had more of a bite than your conventionally bland and deliberately meaningless business speech, American-style. There were here diplomacy and tact and occasional lightness of touch around and about matters of inevitable importance.

The Virtual Site of The Casa de Su Majestad El Rey de España and other sites.

Geography and chronology are not favorite sports in the U.S. Put them together with “soccer” kept separate from American football, also nominally, bringing tergiversation to its historical trajectory. But this big land is also the land in which some states are officially called “Red” and “Snowy” and “Flowery” and some cities “the Angels,” and the Greek name of city for the indigenous tribe (Minneapolis), or the mythical island of fairy tales, “California” and I am not talking about Snow White and her seven dwarf friends (Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy) but about the very American phenomenon of violent amputation and Anglicization of toponyms (Colorado, Nevada, Florida, etc.), and also last names, conventionally only one thank you very much. If you can, shrink, and you always can, it seems to me: America from United States of America and mono-syllables even to names of Presidents, Bill from William Jefferson Clinton, “Dubya” from George W. Bush, etc. And what about timeframes other than “modern”?

Some of this was alluded by Prince Felipe, most explicitly in relation to the biggest expanse, the continental unit, one or two, the city on the hill of the foundation of the American English convention of “America,” or the less common and most politically correct, at least in some academic quarters of “the Americas,” but this one does not walk the streets, in reference to the hemispheric length from Antarctica and Patagonia (Western hemisphere is a bit more common, but still restricted to foreign-policy Washington experts). Hence, the calculated but not offensive ambiguity in the title, “Spain: An American Nation,” which reads and feels very differently in English and Spanish, and your bilingual skills will enjoy the differences in the two versions posted in the official site of the Casa de Su Majestad el Rey de España, available, free of charge, in the “discursos” section of the “Su Alteza Real El Principe de Asturias.” So, in a certain sense, this speech is only one princely step down from the kingly top step of the royal staircase, not quite the high note so to speak, almost the tallest feather in the cap, not quite the whole enchilada, and the second to the big honcho, informally speaking if you please. I doubt the full monarchical pomp and ceremony would show up in the Harvard context in relation to such promotional endeavors and this is also obviously significant. The speech in question was delivered at Harvard University (July 21, 2012). I will put it together in the same knot of the mental handkerchief so to speak with another shorter one delivered in the “bewitching” city of Salamanca in the annual meeting of the directors of the Instituto Cervantes (July 24, 2012). There is no title to this one, except “words delivered.” The complete line-up is accordingly:

a)    www.casareal.es/sar_principe/Discursos-ides-idweb.html;

b)    www.casareal.es/noticias/news/20120621_palabras_conferencia_harvard_ingles-ides-idweb.html;

c)     www.casareal.es/noticias/news/20120621_palabras_conferencia_harvard_espanol-ides-idweb.html;

d)    www.casareal.es/noticias/news/20120724_palabras_reunion_directores_cervantes-ides-idweb.html

The issue of who writes these speeches who remained unsigned is irrelevant. It is official discourse and there will be a team of ghost writers, some of them may have well been with the Prince in the Harvard visit. I do detect, I must say, the hand of a Salamanca-based philologist in the literary flourishes, latent in the Harvard speech and more obvious in the Salamanca gathering of the directors of the Instituto Cervantes, perhaps Víctor García de la Concha himself. The parallel is with the diplomatic missions of the nations of the world to the United Nations. In all rigor, the Harvard trip is a foreign mission to the United States, officially labeled a priority for the Spanish government. It is thus an exercise in euphemistic discourse (universalism without imperialism, international law without colonialism, free trade without inequalities built in, the Spanish renaissance of international creativity and name recognition as mere linguistic vehicle of communication without its own darker sides, yet posing no substantial threat to the dominance of English, etc.). The Prince’s discourse is not the King’s discourse, and thus formally not quite the Master or University discourse, although there are university people helping out (De la Concha is one name among others). There is accordingly an effort at balance between a certain humanistic-historico-cultural lesson to be learned,  and the (international) public relations inside a proud nation not used to receiving (historical) lessons from others, but also inside a corporation probably behaving along the same lines, at least since its international moment of global visibility, say the 1960s-70s?, certainly not during the times of aforementioned names such as Ticknor, Longfellow, Lowell, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and George Santayana and all those expatriates T.S. Eliot, Henry James, etc.  But a larger dimension must be imagined.

The speech is also addressed to domestic and overseas markets, marketing (cultural) goods, even if strongly tied up with the language of “nation.” There are nations and nations and any one interpellation will bring with it multi-directionality, levels (sub-, supra-) and layers (languages, idiolects, registers), etc. The undying textualism among some unrepentant humanists will be hopefully satisfied shortly in my close reading.

In a funny kind of way, it feels like the mouthpiece of the cultural nation-state chased me down without warning, and smoked yours truly out the rabbit hole in a certain biographical trajectory, and pulled the timid pigeon by the tail out the pigeon hole, think the discipline of Hispanic Studies and American institutionality, at least for the time being. I find myself directly implicated in such transatlanticism caught in between these two old locations, Harvard University and The University of Salamanca, in more ways than one and it is surely a funny marriage, and “nobody’s perfect,” and you will remember the final scene in the boat in Some Like it Hot. Nobody’s perfect indeed and one must pay attention to who is doing the binding of localities and what the historical panoramas are, and one must try to circumscribe immediate community not only of readers and interpreters as the old Reader-Response literary theory nomenclature had it, but also the  “imagined communities” (Benedict Anderson’s successful label) of corporation and medium-size nation both in a current turmoil not quite kept calm and quiet underneath the ceremonial carpet. Feel free to bet a safe dollar that the brand name of the education corporation rather than the precise name of the original state of the thirteen colonies, has more name recognition than the “little Rome” (“Roma la chica,” as it is still affectionately called by the natives), closer to a natural love for the Spanish language of the dry, no-nonsense Castilian variety (español is not quite politically correct inside the Iberian peninsula, but this gets lost in the Spanish outside its borders). And yet, both locations are in the same (love) boat so to speak and sent out to circumnavigate the world wide web of the type of promotional enterprise that concerns me here, but perhaps I am abusing the film analogy.

Yet, my infinite humility cannot resist declaring itself wonderfully conversant with such matters, having studied at Salamanca, where the Gomez Herrero family is to be buried since times immemorial, of humble, peasant stock. It still resides there, largely unperturbed by the possible American adventures at large of official representatives, but also by the primogenitor. I can almost see the statue of Francisco de Vitoria in the San Esteban monumental site from the small family apartment in parallel ways to the Alaska Republican politician could see Russia. Having lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades, and having resided in Boston for two, discontinuous years, I have traveled holding hands with Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca through institutions of higher learning since the mid-1990s, having “made it” so to speak, probably not big, in Anglophone countries –with warm memory of Great Britain– for half my life already, and surely I must pause for a minute to catch my breath. My life has traveled through those institutions of higher learning and it feels like the joke is on me ever so precariously making a living in the textual humanities in the foreign language that concerns me immediately here. By the time I finish this piece of critical writing, I am belaboring for my sins in the vicinity of Spanish endeavors not quite raising the stars-and-stripes flag if you get my meaning. Neither do I raise the other flag, the two reds and one yellow not even against the Olympic Games in one of the cities that my Anglophilia will call one of its favorite cities.

 

There is hence no happy national marriage and no willing, automatic or easy playing of the representational role that one is explicitly or implicitly asked to play inside and outside the classroom: nobody’s perfect, I told you. And I am sure I have the reader’s approval to still feel myself directly interpellated by some of these words and events, playing “home-court” advantage so to speak, and the “game” is rarely friendly or entirely banal, even when the crowd is not always supportive, particularly now that I am holding dual nationality of the two nationalities directly involved here (I remember the declaration of faith of a dear acquaintance of mine who said his baby daughter of barely one year already had 5 passports and that he would give her 20 if he could, as long as she does not have to pay taxes in all of them, I suppose, and the tax arm of the U.S. is internationally long in this regard, as you know). But why love for one language? I hold dear the Spanish-English bilingualism that is implicated in most of the speeches I have selected, and which I do not see, I must say, amorously promoted by both sides of the equation. This Spanish theme is at least one of my interests, as the list of culture bites attests. A few good things come up then as you can see with such profession of faith in the plural languages, literatures and cultures, as you may have witnessed by now. You will be glad to know that there is more to come

So the general advise may be imagined to be, also for presentable and decent Princes high up in the staircases of human evolution, to keep the speech unencumbered and under a generally “positive” tone, and light, palatable, particularly when venturing into foreign territory. Do not overload the dice, so to speak, with the impatient natives of empire and/or the corporate world who will give you some time, but only some, and history and tradition and culture have here moderate sex-appeal. The prepared speech of our Prince included a few geographical names and a few dates, but not too many. The explicit impulse was to open up retroactively the official dates of U.S. history from 1620, the Pilgrims’s moment, the foundation of Boston, to, say, a hundred years earlier, or ven earlier the 15th century (Pensacola, St. Augustine in Florida. San Juan in Puerto Rico). A figure such as Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, although not mentioned here, illustrates perfectly some of these early dates of European exploration and colonization of the U.S. within the more expansive American geography (the language of “(post-)colonial,” and “(de-)colonization” was not mentioned, unsurprisingly). The open window into history was selective in the suggestion of bi-national bonding, with the amusing reference made in passing not to mention the Spanish-American war of 1898, against the maintenance of the mono-continentality of “America” in the lips of the foreign Prince, Spanish-language convention still to this day.

First, the importance of arriving first, the firstness of it all, almost like in some Olympic-Game setting of history as the story that matters, yet how sustainable? The Prince emphasized the life styles, value systems, government, town planning, etc. In short, it was the civilizational mission of Spain that mattered and lingered in its future projection. Not quite a politically correct thing to do in the vicinity of cultural studies and postcolonial studies (I bet latest “de-colonial” reincarnations will still not make such gesture any more proper!). The Salamanca speech explicitly identifies language professors as missionaries: remember the previous foreign mission! (and this is a bit like the political unconscious implicit in the Bush mention of the Crusades during the Iraq War!). “Spain,” but it was really an imperial composite of various real-estate entities, is defended to one of the foundational footprints of the new nation of the United States of America. You only have to join the nation-state representatives and the corporate types and apply your good ear to the ground to feel the horse stampede: the dollar sign was inspired in the currency of Spain in the American territories, there is cattle herding, rodeos, the older claims of international law, Francisco de Vitoria was not mentioned by name, the resilience of place names, particularly in the South-West… So, yes, Spain beat England in its landing in New England by a century or so in the same way that Harvard had earlier, older institutional sisters in Santo Domingo, Mexico, and Peru.

So, the impulse to Hispanicize some aspects of the American national identity was clear. I will not be the one who will not applaud the bravery. But one has to live it day in and day out in the academic trenches encircled by popular-culture Americana. The speech was, in a sense, a series of manageable challenges to such American national identity conventionally conceived (the original Spanish version had the beautiful Spanish of “extemporánea” for bizarre and of “extrañamente desapercibida,” and the recognition of the good translation will not overlook the fact that there all sorts of explanations and interest underlining such lack of love and attention). These pages constitute a further protestation via the Spanish and English parallel lines interesting in the near future horizon.

The Spanish-language dimension was labeled in the superlative as “the most significant legacy of Spain’s presence in the Americas.“ There were other references: Thanksgiving already took place in El Paso with Juan de Oñate in 1598, and one could feel the rustling ghost of indigenist protest, and also the growing number of non-Eurocentric vegetarians, tiptoeing through the tulips, probably speaking in languages other than Spanish and English;  Bernardo de Gálvez’s participation on the winning side of the American revolution, the Cádiz constitution of 1812 was put as an example of trans-continentalism, well, the French occupation of the Iberian peninsula forced some liberal-constitutional re-adjustments traveling all the way to the American colonies about to jump off ship, in a sense, short thereafter, the very dollar sign is to have been inspired by the Spanish currency in the Spanish territories at the time of US independence, Vitoria’s “derecho de gentes,” was put as one very good story indeed of the right of traffic and commerce, and do not worry the scholarship of Mark Mazower, Tony Anghie or without false modesty Fernando Gómez Herrero would not be cited in this vicinity (not in vain, the Spanish Government has donated Monarchy a bust of Vitoria to the United Nations), mestizaje and the mixing of peoples is also celebrated as an achievement, the blending of what the Anglo-world calls “races and ethnicities,” which was predictably enough connected to the “melting pot” and “salad bowl” formulations, the forging of inter-continental and multi-national entities, pan-Hispanism, around the 500-million speaker mark, was obviously the cherry on top. Strength in numbers surely! What about institutional numbers inside Harvard University and against the largest American university landscape?

I celebrate that there was some ambitious provocation in the presentation of a history lesson aiming at the average closing of the American mind about the history assumed to be its own, call it flotation device or basic-high-school level of the political unconscious, if you wish. But again contemporary life in America is such that a majority of undergraduates will not be able to recognize the faces of the American-popular-culture of a few decades ago, as a previous culture bites establishes about the Marx Brothers in relation to the very liberal small-liberal arts college in the middle of the nowhere country. I generalize then: most Americans remain to this day oblivious of some happy hispanicities, unable to identify Spanish markers all over the place in the South West, that is what my California experience attested, with Anglo-deformations such as Lacuna Niquel, Laguna de San Miguel?, the place where you would send the official paperwork for the green card, but also Palo Alto, San Francisco, Avenida de las Pulgas, etc. So, any awareness of diachronicity is good and healthy even if you scratch the shell of the Columbian egg sitting crashed on top of the discussion table and the ugly chick of Eurocentrism, colonization and the like, comes out speaking in your mother tongue, which still must of course be historicized in all vigor and rigor. Most of my fellow Americans remain in the dark, the new ones failing to recognize the famous moustache and spectacles of Groucho Marx, away from the lamp posts and with no lights on, not quite knowing how to go about pissing using what part of the body and reaching out the limbs in all directions of the global compass until getting in one of the limbs something that could be used as valid chamber pot of good and bad history in constant motion of eminently confusing timespaces. There is a strong anti-historical deformation of the “now” –perceptible in the rigidity of the “American” language of the “modern”—so any attempt otherwise I find myself liking no matter what. It is for that reason that liked Prince Felipe’s historical-corrective speech knowing full well that the “natives,” add some jalapeño for flavor, are recidivists apropos historical oblivion, also the New England crowd that would most certainly look at that South-West as though that was the venerable history of a foreign country to enjoy its rich history until the end of the good time (a playful, proportional comparativism: if the Spaniards were put to the test of the good intellectual manners of the French, and the French to the Spaniards; or if the Germans had to contemplate the horizon of Turkish Europeanness engaging with Mitteleuropa, or the English were told how to do proper tea according to Indian, Chinese and Turkish traditions, and how to follow instructions and play the beautiful game they invented, by noted representatives of the “lesser races” in the Southern  “provinces” reached effortlessly by the Mare Nostrum, which is exactly what they are doing at the present moment. There is thus merit in the simple juxtaposition of American university sisters, historical product of complex European colonization processes: Santo Domingo, Mexico, Peru and Harvard.

And there was no one single direct reference to Massachusetts and Spanish, and I am wondering how many among those present –about 70 people say, most of them by invitation-only, not me— would have been able to fish out some good, memorable item from Bostonia and its greater area and cared to develop some sustainable environment with future projection. I am wondering how many among the careful readers these pages will have could do something similar. The precariousness of the institutional connection, Spanish government and Harvard University, one lector per academic year in the Romance Languages and Literatures, Spanish section, doing time in the teaching assistant level of the corporation, besides the aforementioned Colegio Complutense exchange program, but mostly one way and with foreign money, speaks for itself in either English or Spanish, or both. How deep the penetration of the foreign mission accordingly? Turn the other side of the coin, how warm and genuine feeling in the hosting of the gracious corporation towards all things Spanish inside an institution that has not been a strong point of reference for the Spanish-speaking world and probably never will? But never say never and always keep up the good cheer, the above-average speech of Prince Felipe is received mostly by its own train of officials and advisors, also by a few middle-aged expatriates in suits, ties and Sunday dresses probably being summoned by the embassy or consulate or the Instituto Cervantes, there was a handful of academics in various Spanish posts in the greater Boston area, and finally there were a few dignified representatives of the Harvard corporation. This culture bite is something of a record accordingly, although not official, of that trip of the train of Prince Felipe, not a gravy train, not a soul train, something a bit more modest, in two or three days in the east coast of U.S. of A. The train passed through the prestigious institution quickly with some people noticing, and by time you get to read this account it already returned to the station where it most naturally belongs on the other side of the Atlantic. There will be other trips of comparable nature inside and outside the Iberian peninsula, not recognized by such name by most American citizens.

No Business like the Show Business of Spanish-Language Promotion?

But the core of the historical lesson was and remains business: of what kind? The international/ist impulse of Spain –America is one dimension presented to the Americans, and other nationalities would get to see other public official faces of Spain according to its official representative inside the quaint institution of (constitutional) Monarchy (bet a safe dollar and ask your closest American friends to explain the difference between Monarchy and constitutional Monarchy with historical examples). Indeed, the universality of the medium-size nation mostly caught up in the geography of the Iberian peninsula is the spirited message. The history bit is “soft-power” rhetoric, and with it some of “language and culture,” and I emphasize the some, and surely this must be the case when there is little else (the Salamanca Speech lists in this order: “literature, cinema, art, thinking (pensamiento), sports, private business interests, or even corporations, (empresas), yet somehow I doubt that big banks will go through the Spanish state to pursue their best interest, except in the current dramatic bailout crisis situation, gastronomy and fashion, tourism was not mentioned but it is implied in the international projection of the “brand Spain,” “marca España”). Strictly from a business logic accordingly, the Spanish language is soft-power export cultural good of the brand Spain. The Harvard event is “emprendimiento” of such branded interest by this non-“cooperante,” also no “friky,” but high, respectable dignitary, in moments of “rescates” of the Spanish economy of the brink of total “intervención” or managerial take-over by global financial institutions loaning money to state and private institutions, mostly banks. And I am mocking some of the aforementioned euphemisms,  unintelligently making their way into the target language defended here to underline some of the extreme situation that concerns us here (there will be others coming shortly).

The Economic Core of What Matters in Spanish Matters.

 

The speech asserts ever so “positively” the American identity of Spain. Turn it around, the big ontological claim is that you cannot be truthfully a Spaniard without taking seriously into account its American dimension. Beyond the identitarian claim, the core remains business, despite the occasional humanities-type and even humanitarian flourishes (you could spot old Salamanca philologists, Victor Garcia de la Concha for example, around the Prince during the Harvard visit). Strength in numbers, surely: the Spanish language claims 500 million speakers, 80% of them in the Americas, ahead of English in number of native speakers as though the quantified nativism was fundamental leverage. Spanish is in reality an American language, this was a second ontological statement, its “Latin” attribution always already too close for comfort, if one remembers the NIMBY (“Not in my Backyard”) nomenclature, of invisible, precarious and semi-legal workers of modest employment, also in university settings. Spanish has had and will surely continue to have a dual, if uneven Euro-American personality. Its institionality has had a disproportionate European face until about the 1970s or 1980s. We now live in a near exhaustion of Peninsular positions and a winning  Latinamericanization, in agreement with larger tendencies in U.S. society at large. Some peninsularists have called this Prescott’s Law and Longfellow’s Law. Something will be said about the Holy Grail. There are at least accordingly two or three degrees of separation between Prince Felipe’s train and the immediate American platform, with or without explicit and nuanced American-identity affirmations on the contrary.

The Features Were Five: Historical, Cultural, Linguistic, Economic, Geopolitical

I would further argue that of the five features made explicit, in this order, the historical, cultural, linguistic, economic and geopolitical, the gravitational pull is somewhat in the middle of the series in between the linguistic and the economic. It is still the economic that is the sun of the sunflower, the apple in the eye, the center of magnetic attention, to which all the other dimensions turn, call it economic determinism if you wish and the rest can be ornamental decoration. The geopolitical was almost omitted, addressed briefly in passing with one line or so, as though it was better not to talk about it, or it was not even a big deal, the basic message being that the small nation is in the same bandwagon with the big one along the same fundamental lines, so to speak.

The candid announcement: the Spanish language is thought to be worth 15% of the GDP of Spain, and I would be curious to know how this is calculated. Audiovisual materials, I suppose in Spanish, amount to 1 billion dollars. Spain is the 2nd most popular destination for US students (first one, France, Italy, Great Britain?). Linguistic tourism generates 584 million dollars per year. This type of cultural commercial activity sustains half a million jobs in Spain alone “and much the same could be said of the rest of the world.” The Spanish language “constitutes an extremely valuable economic asset.” Numbers are good, and yet modest by comparison with budgets of private universities, not to mention the amounts of money circulating in spheres of global entertainment and sports (in early July, Prince Felipe enjoyed the recent victory of Spain in the Eurocup 2012 from the privileged seat of official representative in what may have seen a more joyful official activity). One could play a bit the contrast of the official books between the Nation-State and the Corporation: Harvard university net asset is $37.0 billion as of June 30, 2011; its total operating revenue, $3.8 billion; its operating deficit, $130 million in fiscal 2011; its outstanding debt, $6.3 billion, as of June 30, 2011, reflecting no growth since June of the previous year. There is mention of the 2008 financial downturn, and I am not cracking any secret code that cannot be found freely online in the Financial Report of the Fiscal Year of 2011. Spain’s financial troubles are all over the international press. You may chase down comparative games with your favorite blockbuster films and sports events (one pinnacle, Cameron’s Avatar is listed as costing $310 for production and $150 for publicity and grossing $2 billion, Wikipedia information; how much would the money be around events such as American football and the Superbowl, national leagues and the Champions League?). I am not saying anything new in highlighting the money-volume of corporations competing and in some cases exceeding GDPs of entire countries and economic associations of countries.

Tactfully interpellating its audience, the speech focus was on language, in a manner that was more than descriptive, desiderative and projective, even utopian. I would not doubt the desire of the foreign nationals. I would doubt the same desire among all of the native hosts:

“As you know far better than I do, Spanish has also become increasingly important in the United States. This is of course partly due to the growing importance of the Hispanic or Latino community, thanks to which the United States, with some 50 million Spanish speakers, ranks second amongst the Spanish-speaking nations of the world, after Mexico and before Spain itself. In addition, Spanish is also the “foreign”’ language for which there is greatest social demand in the US, though to be honest I find it hard to describe a language as “foreign” when it has been spoken here uninterruptedly for more than half a millenium. Whatever the case, its growing economic, social, cultural and even political importance in the US is today beyond any doubt (Look what is happening in political and presidential campaigns!!)”

This is the politically correct message that academics pass to their deans, surely in English, to prevent academic positions from degrading or even disappearing. The U.S. official Census quantifies “Hispanic” or “Latino” in such healthy number: yes. And the prediction is that 1 out of 2 or 3 Americans will be called “Hispanic” or “Latino” in two or three decades. Now, that will be a good number to witness in the front row of the movie theater. About half of those are currently Spanish speakers, perhaps? And how much of those find themselves in the American classrooms fulfilling course requirements to higher levels of instruction? Should we turn to how other ethnicities kept their languages turning around the tombstones in the cemetery?

Using the recent Olympic Games as one excuse for the manufactured silencing and invisibility: do you want to bet if NBC gave ample coverage to the historic silver medal by Leo Manzano in the 1500m race and to his celebratory holding of both flags, stars and stripes and the tricolor? Imagine a bilingual interview! Do you think they would give the camera lens and the microphone to Taoufik Makhloufi, the Algerian winner, speaking in Arabic –even in translation– against the background of the Arab Spring? (your local Boston papers, by contrast, were celebrating the Arab women’s participation, but again with no cameras or microphones!). This must surely be too much world intrusion for the rigid script granted by corporate interests! Mutatis mutandis: this nutshell is “modern” invisibility and silencing of the “modern foreign language” template –read: non-English– in the conventional U.S. media of (sports) world events, and there are not that many in which Americans participate officially, and also, I would argue, inside the conventional university institution of higher learning, particularly in crucial situations of epistemic importance not to be ever restricted to conventional zones of Area-Studies predictability of foreign areas cut off from one another and particularly from intense and meaningful two-way intercourse with the diachronic dimension of the U.S., official or not.

But our “narrow” focus remains the Spanish language: half, a third of those 50 million will know Spanish in some convincing capacity? Perhaps 10-15 million among these 50 million will have a complicated legal situation? Spain is not among the most meaningful historic migrations coming into the U.S., with or without the early imperial/colonial arrival emphasized by Prince Felipe (the top national enclaves are Mexico, Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic, Cuba, with a disproportionate influence of the latter inside national politics and also academic politics). And, what about the equation between natives and foreign nationals informing the infinite modesty of the Spanish academic profession in positions of job continuity, not to mention of some institutional influence? An alarming thought: could it possibly be that the academic Spanish profession is not really, fundamentally a sustainable, native crop, think good quality wine or strong, flavorful coffee for example, and imagine the appallingly provincial landscape left behind when these guest workers leave town and gown for the better promises of the next superpower? Apply the peanut butter of geopolitics to the jelly of studies: that is the Castilian environment of Salamanca University between the 16th century and today,  perhaps the nightmare future of U.S. higher education of perceptive institutional decline, but it will be worse since the U.S. thinner (historical, social, cultural, gastronomic, fashion, etc.) content. Remember the previous list of goods exported by Spain (literature, cinema, art, thinking (pensamiento), sports, private business interests, or even corporations, (empresas), etc.).

The predominant linguistic tendency in the U.S. remains English monolingualism already firmly established in the second or third generation (I refer to Richard Alba’s work in relation to a certain persistence of bilingualism and English dominance). And the antagonism to multi-lingualism in the U.S. is personally something I have not experienced anywhere else: most Americans do not know what it is to live in a bilingual society and have an exceedingly poor awareness of the English language, much less of other languages that barely make it into the mainstream channels of communication, but also the classrooms outside the elementary-level rabbit-holes and intermediate-level pigeon holes of the foreign-languages. The loose social fabric, the untying of social knots, the colonial/migratory origin, the permanent sense of cultural displacement that characterizes American society of which Susan Sontag spoke in the 1960s (“What’s Happening in America (1966)?,” Styles of Radical Will (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1966] 1969): pp. 193-204), the exceedingly poor timespace coordinates, currently exacerbated by latest technologies, such as GPSs, an inferiority complex not remedied by institutions of higher learning, mostly for “socialization” purposes, according to recent sociological studies, in case you needed further confirmation of your existential historicism, all these dimensions and more add to the bonfire of vanities of the good intention of the continuation of the promotion of the Spanish language in the United States of America. Surely I am not the one who says no to that, with or without Princes and Princesses. Any sunshine passing through the institutional cracks of an aggressive monolingualism in all institutions of higher learning (this is so to the point that “bilingual” is a dirty word and the preferred one is “dual-language,” which fundamentally means gradual or sudden Spanish-to-English transfer?). In a university setting in which more than the 80% of the teaching responsibilities is done by adjunct, irregular faculty-and-staff, foreign-language sectors are hit the most in the current downgrading and downsizing, historically available to petty-bourgeois academic immigrants like myself, but this is less and less the case. Universities offer less and less full-time jobs with livable wages, breaking down course offerings on a short-term, one-semester-timeframe hiring from below not wanting to recognize experience, longevity, publications, etc. Imagine building a sports team with such cheap procedures! The labor-market landscape is horrid and here the institutional silence is thick, the immediate corporate institution in question being no exception.

So, yes, one welcomes the language of identity, up to a point: “Spaniards who do not incorporate the American dimension do not understand their own identity.” The Iberian connection was reinforced pushing the 500 to 700 millions, including Spanish and Portuguese, a conventional academic marriage in the United States, oftentimes within the template of Romance Studies (the philological “romance” of the language daughters of the Latin mother will find multiple arrangements attending to institutional specificities, departmental arrangement of personalities and interests, etc.). If all these “foreign” units are dwindling as I speak, Prince Felipe did not say. The connection was however made at the level of economics between one of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) country, the terminology is not nice, with one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China): Spain and Brazil. “Spanish” is the constant sign that allows to connect a list of 30 countries, Spain remaining the main investor in Latin America. Latin America was included in the economic landscape. It has a 8% GDP of the world’s total;   its raw materials amount to 12% of its total wealth, which is 5% of total global output. During the past two decades, around 50% of European foreign investment in the region originated in Spain. Between 1997-2012, Spain’s direct investment in Latin America amounted to 158 billion US dollars (of which 126 billion went to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile). Etc.

The culture talk thus combined with the economics talk, effortlessly, without ever becoming a talk exclusively about bare-fact economics. “Culture” made it more palatable. It was after all a “cultured” audience in the inside of the prestigious institution devoted to such matters. And the official impulse was and still is after all to bring greater connectivity between landscapes, the immediate setting of the U.S., presumably via the private-university corporation, as though following the famous dictum “what is good for General Motors, or Harvard, is also good for the country,” and the private and corporate interests localized inside the timespace of the medium-size country, Spain, typically listed as the fourth largest economy of the EU. Hence, the connection was made between the Iberian portion of Europe and Ibero-America, the latter with 8% of world population. The apple in the eye of this “culture” is, no one has any doubts, the economic dimension and it is nice if it comes with proclamations of existential historicism, identity self-affirmations or philological textualisms, but these are not really needed in relation to a disposition that could be called economic determinism. Quixotic it is, dear Sancho reader, to think language (Spanish, or any other really) as one separate entity, smiling, benign and harmless, existing in and of itself, ever so beautifully expressive a vehicle perhaps already mostly captured by capitalistic commodifications.

So, the dominant meaning of the speech trippingly in the official tongue of the gracious Prince, also foreign, speaks, no hiding, of the quality of the economic association in the triangle of “America,” Latin America and Spain with the eye on the prize of the latter, at least from the perspective of the dignified guest in question in the official business of the representational role and foreign mission inside influential environments of international name recognition: the U.S. is number six in Spain’s exports, which is good but not great. I remember the wine-tasting participation anecdote in Manhattan by Ribera del Duero exporters in which I was told that the U.S. wine market is o.k., but hardly ever  great, well below Germany, Mexico, etc. And how to sell such geographical denomination, would Americans know what “Ribera” and “Duero” stand for?, and how many would pay study-time to increasing sophistication in the palate tparticularly now in the depth of a global crisis? I am picking one silly anecdote if you wish, as I did earlier with the world of sports, to try to open up larger vistas also in-forming, de-forming “Spanish,” not only the professional-academic environments. May the anecdote of the specific commodity in question, wine, be taken in other directions and other commodities, which may welcome the “Spanish” label or not. More about the links between the U.S. and Spain:

The balance of trade between our two countries shows a clear deficit for Spain, while the US is currently the sixth largest buyer of Spanish exports, which are generally, in any case, on the rise. Today the United States is the second-largest investor in Spain, while Spanish investment flows to this country have been growing fast over the past few years. Spanish investments in the US generate around 70,000 jobs here while US investments in Spain account for around 300.000. Our two countries thus enjoy extremely close economic and trade relations. But I believe we must still make every effort to further strengthen them in the future.

What is good for Spanish is good for Spain, and also presumably for the U.S. at large, information that must be put in the appropriate collection of charts and tables and projections, for the experts to corroborate. There was no talk of the books of the Corporation: the American etiquette prevents from talking about money publicly. Some international numbers were still however delivered in the official speech that conveyed no false arrogance or false modesty. The desire was and is for greater connectivity, which was often called “cultural.” The word “capitalism” was not included. The word “free trade” is not quite there either (it is not fully idiomatic in Spanish and the “markets,” thus in the plural, is a recent trend in the national newspapers, typically in the subject position of the sentence pressuring national economies to fulfill payments, etc.). The quite candid core of the speech again: reaching out to the Americas on behalf of “these markets,” from a position of relative or medium size-nation currently in turmoil inside the largest European Union dimension, comparable to the U.S. There was one passing, self-serving praise about the crucial role of the Monarchy in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Spain was put as one model for the Arab Spring in a similar way that was done with Latin America one or two decades ago.

The speech was one modality of the advertising campaign of the “brand Spain” caught up among institutions such as the Spanish Government, the institution of the Monarchy, the Real Academia Española de la Lengua, and you may want to check out the list of “patrocinadores” and “colaboradores” or sponsors and stakeholders, in its website (www.rae.es/RAE/Noticias.nsf/Home?ReadForm), some of these include the Fundación Carolina, the director of which is Jesús Andreu (the English historian John Elliott is in this neighborhood and one wonders out loud at such intellectual intimacy). The visit to Boston was coordinated with activities around a technology fair in the area of New Jersey and the Escuela de Negocios IESE building bridges between the greater New York area and the Universidad de Navarra (Opus Dei), must be in this vicinity (I saw at least one clerical collar moving about the Harvard event, but I missed the opportunity of a dialogue about hows and whys). I must mention that Center King Juan Carlos at New York University with a few corporate sponsors, Coca-Cola among them the last time I checked, and this is historically due to the former NYU President Brandemas and Queen Sofia Greek-origin connection, surely. As mentioned in the speech: “the importance of culture as motor of economic development… to contribute to the improvement of the image of Spain in the U.S.” The language is direct and plain enough. It does not hide anything. “Soft” cultural goods are the “motor” in the running engine of medium-size nations playing it in the international league when not many other options are available. “Culture:” escort service or handmaiden of business interests, side by side the technological fair (not in vain a certain right-wing medium-size corporate group sector in Spain still supports the Monarchy since its return in 1975).  The offering is that of the humanistic-humanitarian reservoir, the preservation of some form of historical memory, yet of what kind?, whose whom?, and one may wonder in long quiet evenings about such “humanizing” seduction efforts in an always cutting and quite angular, already slippery and technologically decentered global society undergoing violent pushes and pulls in all directions…

The speech was more itself when it emphasized the more cultural or educational side of social things. Yet easy googling will deliver other sites such as Venderfuera.com, including Wally Olins, titled “Guru of Branding,” under the title “La marca España es pasión y dedicación;” or headings such as “Spain, A country in search of an Image,”  (www.wharton.universia.net/index.cfm?fa=viewfeature&id=1324&language=english).

 

I am sure there will countless others. The point being: not to be synesthetically blind,  and compulsively tearful upon hearing those friendly calls for (national) identity, with or without the adjectives cultural and historical, but also not to be tongue-tied about the enticements of this or that native or foreign language, typically in one-or-the-other binary templates, and why?, and what about the language of computers, the idiolects of business and foreign affairs, etc.? And since when we are inclined to go ever so easily into that night of the corporate tongue and the discourse of officialdom? Did they ever provide house of linguistic being to whatever construction of ontology, meaning or even “identity” you may have wanted to cling to or to defend?

One must thus remain vigilant and constantly analytical about the capitalistic business of commodification of social relations cutting across disparate timespaces. Could it be that this is our political unconscious not entirely put to majority vote? Are “we” willing to take a stab at it? What if “nation” –and “language” with it– hides more than illuminates? The final sentence of the speech was a double mirror image and a calibrated provocation: “Spain is an American nation, “also delivered in the Spanish language, and how often do you hear a foreign language in the context of institutional life in the U.S.?, and you are reminded that the speech was delivered in a very proper and acceptable English language. And there was a second kicker: “and that, more importantly perhaps, the American hemisphere itself, is and will remain profoundly Hispanic.” I wish I could linger in those two adverbs, and tarry productively in such Hegelian negativity. But what is this piece of writing if not that? The good gesture is the double mirror to the corrective mirror of (mis-)recognition, turning the street into a two-way street, taking both sides of the fork at the same time so to speak, grab both horns of the bull, the pigtails of the cute blonde so to speak, and feel free to run down other body parts, but you get the meaning. Geopolitically, it did not warrant the insinuation of a blowback that some analysts have made explicit in relation to U.S. foreign policy. But I want to throw it in here as well. American, the U.S. inside the larger dimension, call it “greater-American” or “hemispheric” if you wish, looks at itself in the Hispanic mirror of the American cultural identity and the Hispanic eyes and tongue see Americanness in them, when they might initially have been told to believe and see that such was not the case. Think the exact opposite of authors such as Samuel Huntington’s profoundly anti-Hispanic disposition culminating in its last appalling book which a Fernando Gomez Herrero reviewed to some acclaim some time ago. The undying suggestion in these critical pages is however that we –you and I– should never genuinely stop at the identity language of official being.

Still a Bit More about Culture?; Or How George Yúdice Delivers Further Clarifications.

Still, there is a bit more about a certain understanding of culture in the Prince’s speech. George Yúdice is happy to provide further clarifications, but also complications:

“Culture has become a grab bag into which all kinds of technological innovations are deposited as a means to protect the ownership claims of transnational corporations. The clearest example of this trend is the displacement of the categories to which the concept of “intellectual property” applies. NAFTA, following the example of GATT, redefined the notion of culture as forms of property that include copyrights, patents, trademarks, plant breeder rights, industrial designs, trade secrets, integrated circuits, geographical indications, encrypted satellite signals, and so on” (p. 71).

Humanists will have to deal with some numbers:

“In 1992, for example, Europeans ‘exported $250 million to the U.S., while the latter had sales of $4.6 billion in Europe’ (Baladur 1993). US Audiovisual sales in Europe continue to rise: the 1992 figure for exports had been matched in half the time, by mid-year in 1994 (…). Globally, sales figures surpass US$ 12 billion per annum in foreign revenues (Motion Picture Association of America 1999). And when one looks at the sum of revenues from the copyright industries (theatrical films, TV programs, homevideo, DVDs, business software, entertainment software, books, music, and sound recordings), that figure rises to US$ 535.1 billion, or 5.24 of the GDP (Motion Picture Association of America 2002) (…) International ‘piracy’ of U.S. “culture” (software, books, music, video) reached $8 billion in 1993, rising by more than 50 percent to $12.38 billion in 1998, according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance… ”  (George Yúdice’s “Free Trade and Culture,” included in Literature and Globalization. A Reader edited by Liam Connell and Nicky Marsh (Routledge, 2011): pp. 68-73 [71-2]).

These numbers are admittedly old history. This history is thus out of date, and needs a good update, but always within the same capitalist structure of flows between the U.S. and Europe against the largest dimension of global market. Put the numbers of the “Spanish” side by side such old numbers, accordingly: peanuts. But one must also speculate –not so much with the exhilaration of unfettered thought proposed by a noted colleague soon to come– about the double anachronism apropos the Prince and his discourse, that of humanistic culture in the relative peculiarity of the constitutional Monarchy representing one foreign nation of some visibility and importance in global affairs (some would say Spain has enjoyed a disproportionate visibility in relation to its economic size, population, or even intellectual merits, and that it continues enjoying too much of it, this event being but one proof of the pudding, in relation to the dim visibility of academic Spanish inside the U.S.). So, perhaps history has been too sweet after all and it is rigorously going in another direction, following a logic that is not humanistic or textualist, playing catch-up with the transnational train of commodity production, distribution, consumption. Yúdice emphasizes, and he is not the only one in doing so, the inherent limitations of the national-state format in trying to make the intellectual jump that tries to understand the transnationalism that you will be able to verify quickly if ionly in relation to the labels attached to the commodities you and I will have all around us:

“The transnational character of much cultural production and distribution, particularly in the music and entertainment, makes it unlikely that the protection of culture can be effectively legislated on the basis of national states… computer programs, hardly an example of a cultural product that merits evaluation on the basis of national identity,” (p. 72).

If one were to pay attention to big amounts of money alone, it is clear that corporations move more (commodities, money) and move them further and more often than most nation-states, the market-share called “Spain” included. How quaint is already accordingly the princely speech inside the old institution of the monarchy about the fast-becoming anachronism of national-identity at least in relation to capitalist economic logic that jumps about and around it making use of it whenever convenient, for example in relation to sports events such as the recent London 2012 Olympic Games? I have already expressed distress at the immense poverty of NBC copyright coverage on the American side of the Atlantic of such two-week event that focused ever so exclusively on American-number-one performances (see “In Olympic Park, a Deluge from Our Sponsors,” www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/sports/olympics/in-olympic-park-a-deluge-from-the-sponsors.html?pagewanted=all). Other dimensions are to be included here (“You for Sale,” www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/technology/acxiom-the-quiet-giant-of-consumer-database-marketing.html?pagewanted=all), side by side the Spanish language focus that is the concrete example, also excuse and pretext of this critical article. The predominant push, the motor indeed, of the speech, is towards the  internationalization of “Spain,” one “localization” among many other options, a modest, perhaps entirely negligible part and parcel meriting little to no allegiance unless you profit from it, within the large scheme of things of global capitalism, not currently in a strong form in the larger European or U.S. geographies and temporalities either. And what does the sign “Francisco de Vitoria” signify here if not preamble to “free trade”?

The Baudrillardian Simulacrum of Spanish Culture.

The Prince event in the Harvard setting was one Baudrillardian piece of simulacra, a performativity carefully put together, a calculated marketing strategy if you wish, which may or may not pay off, about the simulacrum of “culture” within the virtual global market of material and immaterial commodities whirling all around a foreign globe of increasingly uncertain timespace boundaries. The name of the French intellectual was not explicitly included in the speech in what would have been a violation of ethnic predictabilities and a self-reflexive masterstroke. At one level, the foreign train passed how else but very quickly through the education corporation of international name-prestige recognition, with live and video streaming, in real-time on the Harvard Kennedy School of Government site exclusively, and then taken down, also quickly, never to be found, perhaps sitting pretty in some office or archive or site out there?, while the bilingual text also quickly could be accessed for free in the Official Site of the Spanish Monarchy by those who may have an interest in such matters. There was quick coverage in the so-called Spanish Agencia EFE and a few Spanish newspapers included a brief piece of news about the event. It does not somehow surprise that the Boston Globe, the mediocre local paper, missed it, and I am willing to stand corrected if it did (a quick search in its site delivered one item “New Fox network targets Latinos,” about a partnership between Fox International Channels and RCN Television in Colombia).

No surprises here. The state talks to its subjects not in the manner of a supreme subject of knowledge, but mostly in the manner of a market specialist dealing with a specific product, Spanish in this case. Within the global audience, there are several audiences, or better customers and consumers, or market shares, and stake-holders. And you may imagine geographies such as the Big Other of the symbolic production of global capitalism, the sole standing superpower nation-state, of the European Community and the NATO partner, a Western ally call it, etc. In the meantime, it is clear that we were dealing with controlled environments. There was a speech act not for intellectual debate. The corporation delivered no formal or official response. This was strictly speaking a soliloquy, a monologue delivered by a spokesperson who also formally or officially does little more or even nothing else but play representational role by constitutional duty in a parliamentary democracy and typically so mostly in foreign missions. Almost speaking in the manner of literary critics, the Monarchical function is strictly speaking stand-in and filler, content-thin national-allegory of representational virtue saying that historical things have been good and that things will get better. And there is nothing to talk about, nothing else to say, there is no debate, no “talking back,” and the Harvard site was not the place for such type of engagement, and perhaps is still not, at least the last time I did a double-check, in the same extensive way that the American higher-education setting is perhaps already wholeheartedly not that type of site, virtual or otherwise, any longer. Was it ever? Will it ever? And I know a thing or two after almost two decades in the business, let us put it that way, also because I left other sites that were never what I wanted them to be on the other side of the Atlantic in the vicinity of the city of Lazarillo of Tormes, which happens to be another river passing by the other old city not quite cutting it in two halves in the same way the Charles river does with Boston and Cambridge.

 

 

You see: my Americanism is already tested enough not to have to keep quiet about the serious limitations embedded in the eminently private and corporate university set-up, and my Hispanism, should one wish to call it that way?, is also strong enough to find genuine limitations in the eminently public national-state system one had to leave behind. Fancy the blonde or the brunette? Scylla and Charybdis? Like a rolling stone gathering no grass in between these two models? My internationalism is such that will never let go of bureaucratic procedures and official permits of residence, of visa and passport procedures and of passing through customs and security devices, etc. not to want to smile and raise this or that flag, endorse this or that motto, wholeheartedly. Perhaps, I would do so if they paid well the services of the critical humanistic intelligence with or without the desirable but not required Spanish-language dimension.

Some Extra Words about the Semi-Public Harvard Event.

I was lucky to get to see the Prince and the Princess and their train as they entered my favorite room in the Widener Library. No one seemed to notice around me but me. I checked the day calendar and I verified he was going to give a talk at the Kennedy School of Government in a couple of hours. I picked up my books and I made it there, t-shirt and sandals, bag of books and all, not without some wrangling with the people at the door who were checking out the names in a guest list. It must have been about 70 people, mostly middle-aged, all virtually white, but Spain is still somewhat “dark” in the American imagination, in the same way “Hispanic” is still not quite “white” in the latest U.S. Census, and there I was sharing the happy moment with a sizeable portion of foreign nationals and some institutional representatives. And there they were in the suits and ties, and more formal-looking dresses. The feeling was one of out of the ordinary. There was some expectation. Some extra level of formality, not too much.  There were three flags behind the podium where the microphone stood: the American flag, Spain and the European Community –no Boston, no Massachusetts, no United Nations. No Patriots or Red Sox emblems either, much less the previously mentioned “Hoyas.” I could spot and do small talk with some colleagues in proper attire, probably invited through the Consulate or the Instituto Cervantes (there is an “Aula Cervantes,” literally “classroom space,” affiliated with the Department of Romance Studies at Boston University on the Boston side of the Charles River). I entertained with my shadow the Theodor Adorno thought about the mild, desiccated ceremonialism afforded by our contemporaneity, particularly the American variety, still fresh the memory of the recent American naturalization ceremony at the Seaport World Trade Center also on the Boston side of the Charles. I cannot help but lean more Minimia Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life (Verso, 1978), than kitsch and camp in relation to academic culture. I sometimes wish it were the other way round, but not in relation to the visit in question.

One of these colleagues sought the complicity, a semi-humorous quick comment about the session would go along the lines of the “encounter” [of civilizations, more than of conquest], which was right-on in ways that inevitably included him in the joke, and had him hung so to speak in a flourish of the sharp tongue from his own tie as rope from any of the bridges of the Charles, pick your favorite, obviously in relation to a profession that is currently compromising its own present and future, imploding from within, seemingly with everyone’s complicity, not hiring fully competent professionals full time in dignified posts that will allow them to make a livable wage and continue writing biting interpellations to all the societies that may hit the radar, with special predilection for the “American” variety, obviously. Other colleagues simply smiled an empty smile of mild recognition. There was nothing to say. But here we all were in the thick of it so to speak. Did these go to the lunch of the happy chosen few at the Faculty Club? Probably. Your racial-profiling skills quickly ascertained the white and Anglo, male and female collegial configuration, side by side the substantial the portion of the foreign natives. Our previously mentioned colleague has the appropriate “darker” informant spouse situated in the lower rungs in the profession. Perfect indeed, at least in the Mary Douglass’s anthropological sense of the word putting matters of job prospects, race-and-ethnic labeling, official-minority status, social visibility and remuneration, but also language-hierarchy, etc. in such orderly way that puts all things Spanish in the subordinate position, still by the Age of Obama (perfect must be read ironically in this article that is attacking such conventional procedure, and I am including this parenthetical clarification to make sure to all readers who might take a peek at these pages while riding the most careless of trains both ways across the Charles River). With such good friends in the audience, I do not need enemies… Neither do you. But still you might want to know that the official train entered the room on time. And there was some kind of momentary hesitation and a slight orchestration so that the people, say about 70, stood up and offered something of an applause. To what, it is not clear. To the old-world charm? To the quaint institution, the Monarchy, coming to Bostonia? To the beauties of the Spanish language? To the commonality of the commonwealth  of Massachusetts? To the good-business prospects between partners of unequal size, the Nation-State and the Corporation, of different historical extraction, and trajectory, volume, ontology, merit and worth, at least in manners that could quantify in dollar or euro amounts? Merilee S. Grindle, professor of international development and Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, officiated the proceedings, graciously as it is commonly the case, no sprinkling of the Spanish language, in opening up to the Prince’s speech that was going to be the one and only protagonist. Grindle introduced the Prince to the audience and directed the questions in the end, no more than three or four in what was a controlled environment. One or two questions looked to me like they had been planted, with two foreign nationals in suits and notebooks, but do not entirely trust me on this one.

Grindle offered her own question about the severity of current economic events in Spain, and as such it underscored the proper function of the Constitutional Monarchy in the scrupulous observance of diplomatic etiquette, particularly in foreign missions. Prince Felipe quite explicitly mentioned that he could not be but prudent in his remarks about the state, not of the Spanish language in the home of the brave, mind you, no question addressed the topic, but of the Spanish economy within the more general crisis of the European Union. He highlighted that such was his proper representational role and that he had nothing but hope and that it will get better. Perfect declaration of representational principle –prudency, discretion, diplomacy–  that must cover the entire speech that had preceded, a historical-lesson of sorts of a profoundly anti-inquisitive and anti-historical nature while making claims on the contrary while pushing some American conventions and expectations, and I emphasize the previous some. About the core of economic matters, “we need more Europe, and it is crucial to avoid a “bottleneck effect,” in the question-and-answer session. Obviously the point is not to antagonize any one dimension explicitly, so there was an expansive definition of Spain, to the question if it also was an African nation (qua Phoenician, Etruscan, Muslim in history). This one was probably not planted. And to the malicious ones out there I will make sure that they understand that it did not come from me.

And what other thing to say except that things are still o.k., if not good, and that they will get better? The Spanish Monarchy is not an intellectual institution. One does not seek knowledge and meaning there. Still, official speeches come and go through the institution setting up the scenario for possible interventions into symbolic constellations. Mutatis mutandis, which is Latin for the same thing that applies to the fair question if American universities have ever been and continue being or indeed are willing to become intellectual institutions of deep penetration into American society, for American society to take a good look at its face comparatively with other societies of the foreign and wide and challenging world at large (recent studies in the sociology of education, included in previous culture bites, answer in the rotund negative for the immense majority of customers and consumers going about “socialization” in those spaces). The specific foreign mission in question did not constitute –and also did not want to constitute– the ideal forum or the best format for “dialogue” of the various plural options of language and culture, but also of economy and history, that were not presented. And ubi sunt, where are, my dear comrades up in arms, or perhaps hiding deep in the rabbit and pigeon holes, these ideal platforms for the vigor of the exchange, the rigor of the debate, the joys of social intercourse, polymorphous and perverse, in all directions?

 

 

 

Harvard etiquette, call it convincing-smile-shy, phlegmatic, stilted, some geniality but no warmth, some glad-handing but no warm embrace, air-kissing with no tongue, starched and proper-Bostonian-stoic, or at least affected, more cut-and-dry and dry-and-cut New-England demeanor of biting colonial origin, than immensely verbal, and Olympic-Game kitschy-and-camp of late, Great Britain of my good old memories, even of livid libidinal disinvestment perhaps, demanded respect from those sitting their respective limbs in the audience, and respect it got. And what else? I was willing to listen to the silence and take in the show business in relation to the academic business.

 

 

In it, the Latin American dimension was strong explicit theme in the speech and it was also part and is currently parcel of the institutional framing at Harvard. Spain is part of Latin America and vice versa, and one should pay attention to the disproportionate size of the equation of both portions, and the “America” in the title refers historically, socially, politically largely to its Latinity, inside which the U.S. was also historical part, and is still typically not parcel of the conventional institutional framing at Harvard and others, at least for the time being, also for some conventional American imagination that puts most of this Latinity “out there,” and does not wish ever to get too close for comfort, much less get sanguine or even hot-tomato spicy about history and culture, much less Spanish foreign-language acquisition. And such conventional closing does not typically want to do otherwise as long as there is no big business tied up around it, and big business, as far as I can tell, but I may be wrong, there is not, and very few indeed do dare present a different mindset that will forcefully challenge the big-business or corporate “closing of the American mind” in the first place, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, or in domestic spaces (I am using Allan Bloom’s formula advisedly undermining its origins, so to speak). Prince Felipe’s speech did not challenge such conventional all-American mindset, and most probably did not ever want to do so, wanting to be perceived as good ally in all matters (social, political, cultural, business, etc.), despite the daring-do of offering a few corrections aiming at the vindicating of the greater visibility of all things Spanish and of the tinkering with the “American” identity of Spain, which is very nice indeed, I almost imagine the political unconscious pedaling with the hamster going around the spinning wheel in the institutional cage of some corporate academic types out there, typically not teaching Spanish language and culture, but one never knows, and it is also of course so very sweet indeed the said Spanish self-serving emphasis, but as long as it stays out there in the South-West of the U.S. of A, and does not get too close for the comfort of us here in the Cambridge little pocket of the greater Boston area, say around the white-mostly university areas, and learns to behave properly, not disrupting the furniture with foreign claims. There are at least two laws to invoke soon and even a bit of a search of the holy grail to which one now must turn.

(…)

Spanish in the U.S.: It is not Quite Happening.

In such grim situation of the foreign humanities, with a particular emphasis on the “Spanish” dimension, I have poked some fun at the proper-heritage Boston demeanor in matters of discourse, always amiably, and beware of some deity unleashing righteous fury at the foreign jouissance of the recently naturalized American. It reaches me appropriately that Samuel Adams wrote that “Boston might become a Christian Sparta (History of the United States, vol. 5, page 195 (1857), which combines rather nicely, high culture to popular culture so to speak, not only with the recent film 300 about the Spartans giving it all to defend Greece and Western civilization by extension from the more sophisticated and foreign sensualist East of the Persian Empire; but also with the polished self-assignation of “little Rome” for Salamanca, side by side one of the many nicknames of Boston, “Athens of America.” Athens, Sparta… There is genuine Americanness in this generic play with classical referentiality within identical frame of desirable referentiality, in this case the Greek-Latin world of European origins as it is managed by native Anglo-Americans of undeniable relative privilege, not necessarily epistemic.

Prince Felipe’s speech did not include local names and also what I am about to mention. I doubt the distinguished train members would know of this American-based classicism or whether they would think much of it upon knowing. Yet, we have here local flavor of historical privilege apropos classicism and historicity of a kind that I find now virtually impossible inside and outside the classrooms. Spanish is not directly included, but at least one of the statues puts it in, indirectly speaking, through the back door for the popular imagination still to this day. I am speaking of the Louisburg Square in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. Former Democrat presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is said to have a house in such area. Its still existing private area in the middle of such square has two statues: Aristides the Just and Christopher Columbus. The choice speaks of another time and sensibility: genteel, Brahmin, the non-book humanities of Boston in the streets in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Allan Forbes and Ralph M. Eastman include some information in Some Statues of Boston (State Street Trust Company, 1946; pp. 11-17), which I am here extrapolating in relation to the pair of privilege or exclusivity, made self-evident by the fence that surrounds such private piece of property not for the enjoyment of the many, two blocks aware there is the public expanse of the Boston Commons (perhaps you may want to entertain private and public domains in relation to “Spanish” as well). A Greek merchant, Joseph Iasigi, is responsible for the double installation: the Greek statesman in December of 1849 and Columbus about 20 years later. The statues are coming from Florence and Genoa in Italy. Doubt is cast that the residents knew who the Greek statesman and general was, Forbes and Eastman write. I would bet good humanities money the situation remains identical today, doubting anyone caught in such dramatic state of ignorance, myself included, would feel the need to hide behind closed doors. It is easy to walk around and not notice the two statues half hidden in both extremes of the private garden surrounded by trees and vegetation. Remember that you cannot go inside the private green area unless you are a square resident. I am not but I am close.

 

Costs were $74.56 for shipping of the Aristides statue, $20.07 for insurance, custom house charges and truckage, and $136.65 for erection. Costs for Columbus are $202.17 ($109.71, purchase, $92.46 freight transportation) and there is a second charge of $120.31 for transportation. No erection costs are included. Both statues traveled together from Europe to these shores in what is allegorical template or objective correlative of ornamental humanities of another time and place no longer affordable to us. Iasigi may have been compensated, write our informers Forbes and Eastman. Apparently, the choice of Columbus representing “all of America” was made to offset resistance to the statue of the obscure Greek. The Greece we must imagine is part of the Ottoman Empire during the time of the installation (we can use the conventional date of the end of WWI for the demise of such empire of no firm hold of the native imagination then as well as now). The wealthy merchant and Beacon resident Iasigi served as Turkish and “possibly also” as Greek Consul in Boston. Different organizations used the statues as meaningful points of reference: the technology group, the No. 6 Club, chose Aristides, and the Italian Columbus society logically selected the Italian explorer in the service of the Iberian Crown. This is still the American beginning that puts the Iberian dimension in some standing in the American imagination, to drop it soon after. This was, you will recall, Prince Felipe’s original claim to historical firstness for Spain, the earliest European “encounter” with America from a euphemized position of colonization. There is news of occasional statue adornment and of “lurid tales of gambols in the midnight snows of no classic implication.” A grocer’s wagon let a merchandise of eggs fall at the feet of Aristides. Iasigi felt obliged to scrub them off. Columbus received a wreath the day of his birthday, occasionally with the honor of a procession. An article in the Boston Globe by M.A. De Wolfe Howe mentions:  “Aristides and Columbus will continue as sentinels at the end of the Square, twin exemplars for residents and visitors alike, of the assurances of Justice and the adventures of Discovery.” I doubt such activities take place now. I got to see members of the Occupy Movement protesting outside Kerry’s house. They did not pay their respects to either statue. Either way, the contemporary prose would less far less genteel.

There are two nice anecdotes that convey something more of a historical sensibility that is no longer ours:

“In 1852, the Proprietors passed a vote excluding children from entering the Mall, the wording being “that no boy or boys be allowed to enter the enclosure, nor be permitted to injure or meddle with any of the embellishments of the same and that all the Proprietors be appointed a Committee with powers to enforce this rule.” A small boy, nevertheless, succeeded in getting inside the iron railing and broke off half of the index finger of the left hand of Columbus. Hen then became so frightened that he tore down the hill and threw it into the Charles. Miss Marie V. Iasigi explained to the writer that there were two boys who shared the blame for the lost half digit. One of these lads, she added, has grown up to be a favorite doctor in Boston, and the other proved to be the son of a former Mayor of this city. An unverified story has it that some boys were playing baseball and the ball knocked off the finger. Fortunately Aristides had both hands in his tunic and therefore was able to preserve his fingers.

Many years later, however in 1915, Mrs. Wadsworth, a resident of the Square, brought up the question of restoring the missing digit, but no steps were taken to repair the loss. Five years later the Committee in care of the Mall again discussed this all important question and thereupon interviewed an Italian sculptor, who, the record says, “gave as his opinion that this loss enhanced the value of the statue as an antique –to procure which he offered to replace the present statue by a brand new one of Columbus if the Proprietors would accept the exchange and let him have the original.” The matter evidently was dropped for good and all and the famous explorer still remains minus half of one finger.

A more innocent prank was played in the year 1932, for according to the Boston Herald residents in the section were both amused and surprised to notice one morning that a beret, a small cap, had in the words of that newspaper been “added to the raiment of Aristides in the centre of their self-governed domain.” A policeman, as the story goes, vaulted the iron fence, removed the inappropriate head covering, put it in his pocket and vaulted back. Two or three times in the earlier years the two statues were cleaned by order of the Committee, as appears by the records, or more recently sand blasted occasionally by Dwight Prouty. Mrs . E. Sohier Welch recalled a cartoon by Francis W. Dahl under the title “The Boston Art Commission wants to clean up the City’s Statuary,” explaining that “Our cleanest statue must be Aristides in Louisburg Square. He looks as though he’d been called to the telephone while taking a bath” (p. 14).

There is nothing intrinsically Hispanic in these vignettes or in the other statues included in the book of Forbes and Eastman. And yet I would defend that there is something meaningful here about the immediate circumstance of the garden of (university) privilege within the greater Boston area against the larger geography of the federal nation. Indeed very discreet Hispanic presence in the names inscribed in the walls of the Boston Public Library within walking distance of the Beacon Hill area that I have addressed in another culture bite. There is little in the sculpture department that I can see of tremendous reference on the Harvard campus. An imposing full-body statue of the Argentinian leader Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, credited to Ivette Compagnion, was recently installed in Commonwealth Avenue (1973). He passed through Harvard with no big fuss there. What bust do you think the Spanish Monarchs would take to the headquarters of the United Nations? Francisco de Vitoria, and a reference was made to him in the speech of the Prince, yet left unnamed, as some form of free-trade precedent, a “white Legend” if you wish, but mostly for those humanists of historical persuasion in the know. Not for the many at the gathering and clearly those outside. I doubt anyone would include this type of materials in the Spanish classrooms inside Harvard and outside. I want to play some topographic contrasts between sensibilities in relation to a local or native, call it proper Bostonian, of inherited privilege “we” never had and probably will never have.

In reconstructing the specific event of the official visit of the foreign, middle-aged heir to the Spanish Crown to Harvard University, I have looked at the window-dressing of two very different social creatures, the nation-state (Spain), arguably put together in 1492 with the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, tanto monta, monta tanto… inside the corporation currently celebrating its 375th Anniversary, against some specter of the federal-nation of the U.S. which typically, officially dates its birth date in the vicinity of its constitution of 1776. I suppose that one could also do the intrinsic institutional history of the corporation in question in relation to faculty members representing such field of knowledge, but I have not been directly concerned with that. I have parsed Prince Felipe’s speech content and manner of delivery in some detail while contextualizing somewhat the event, one among others, inside a two-three day visit to the U.S. The moment is quite dramatic over there, in Spain, in economic terms alone. It is also quite dramatic over here too, at the double level of the federal nation, the state of Massachusetts in notorious state of disrepair of its public institutions, but also in relation to the immediate corporation in question. The official language of institutions is tactful if explicit about the climate of considerable economic volatility and significant uncertainty, the operating deficit and continuing budgetary uncertainties (you may peruse at your leisure the Harvard Report –Financial Report, Fiscal Year 2011 freely available off the web for the business counterpoint to Prince Felipe’s speech).

Uncertain, changing and fluid are three frequent adjectives of a supreme euphemistic nature. Uncertain, about what? Changing from what to what? Fluid in between what shores, or what are the points of referentiality or intelligibility that must be imagined? Official “literature” will avoid personalized subject positions and concrete, situated, clearly identified and easily referenced complements. No cognitive mapping will be provided for your desirable orientation. Colleagues will avoid “dialogues” and “conversations.” There is thus strategic disorientation being fostered by genuinely disoriented institutions of higher learning, the disorientation quite beyond dire straits in financial means, and inevitably touching on the very core of what learning and education may mean in our conjuncture. I fail to see good renderings, let alone answers, coming from education sectors, increasingly becoming corporate and thus lobotomizing critical intelligence from inside, and I am speaking of direct experience in the foreign humanities in the last two decades, making teaching barely reach the living wage, building on discontinuities and revolving doors, evacuating decades of experience, publications, levels of proficiency, etc. in a sourcing that seeks the cheapest possible form of labor in a rather perverse nativism that hires cheap foreign labor for the short term and places it in the lower levels of the foreign languages. This tendency towards cheapening of knowledge-producing environments is certainly at the core of American society in toto, also in environments officially not for profit, and this is model that is currently being imported to the European public state university, never an entity that provoked violent love affairs. If volatility and uncertainty is what mighty corporations are saying in public, imagine what the mighty and less mighty are not saying.

If the core is admittedly economic, my focus has focused on the official speech of the Spanish Prince Felipe de Borbón y Grecia, in essence, “positive,” diplomatic and after greater cooperation between the two nations, the U.S. and Spain, in the vicinity of Spanish-language promotion. Private business interests are behind the figure of the Prince, part of the train through the American geography so to speak. We may conceive of the Harvard intervention as soft-power intervention in education sectors of international name recognition. It will work somewhat. I have spoken of the non-identity, the non-correspondence, or even the dis-relationship between the various singular dimensions (nation, state, corporation, language). It is unintelligent to assume singularity of interest embedded in these singular nouns, also in “Spanish” matters of moderate appeal to the American and global markets. The critical attention and love for detail is for the immediate circumstance, or academic immanence, and also the street level, surely making you grit your teeth. Such priority should not distract from a “beyond,” or “transcendentalism,” or greater vistas than the ones provided by any one uncertain institution talking the uncertain language. Aren’t they really more like pimps and procurers?

El Español se la Juega en los EEUU como Segunda Lengua en las Próximas Décadas

Credit is given when credit is due. Victor Garcia De la Concha has made statements about the poor labor conditions of the Spanish professionals in the context of the Instituto Cervantes in the U.K. It is not only in the U.K. and it is not only in such institution (www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2012/04/22/espana/1335091230.html). These professors are barely making a living. He could have been speaking about working conditions on this side of the Atlantic in relation to most American universities and colleges  (I am fond of the Puerto-Rican “mis-translation” of colegios for universities and colleges, hitting the mark as it were via the false cognate; I also remember the desire of the sole professional librarian I know of Hispanic, also Puerto-Rican, origin, directing a mediocre university library and how he wanted to talk with the facultades en los colegios, he meant university faculty members, so that students think otherwise of the campus libraries, which are not librerías en el campo). But how on earth to be picky with the correct Spanish inside the “bad life” thus described (Spanish eloquent “malvivir,” in García de la Concha’s quotes, and necessary irreverence is automatically triggered in the associations with the society of the humility and the reinforcement of the aforementioned survival code of silence which these pages are betraying.

I doubt García De la Concha, who was present at the Harvard event I just described, will know English well enough to appreciate its beauty, or firmly address an audience or call it his target language. I do not doubt his love for the Spanish language. His Latin will be good so he will understand Resina’s instantly in more ways than one. I doubt both will be moved by the Ticknor precedent of genteel Boston, or the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum of European collectionism, not even by the two rather modest statues in the Louisburg Square in the Beacon Hill area of Boston.

These two colleagues, De La Concha and Resina, will not be sitting at the dinner table amiably any time soon. Yet, both will know a thing or two about Spanish in the U.S., the Catalan academic making his living here in its immediate vicinity. García De la Concha made his living at the University of Salamanca in the Department of Hispanic Studies. I still think the old-fashioned feminine plural name of “hispánicas,” sounds very nice, classically speaking, and I am saying this, mind you, passing through cultural and postcolonial studies. But such niceness gets lost in the English translation in the same manner that the Iberian politically correct castellano does not travel over here politely in Spanish clothes. García de la Concha comes out and says that Spanish is hanging by the skin of its teeth as a second language in the U.S. in the following decades. He has said already more publicly than the whole collection of departments of such disciplinary field of studies in the United States in the last two decades as far as I can see. At the same time he is not battling the battlefield of the foreign humanities over here.

And yet he is keenly aware of working conditions, having witnessed first-hand transformations of education instruction from philological to “foreign language” models at the University of Unamuno, Fray Luis de León, Juan de la Cruz and many other names virtually unintelligible to most Americans passing through classrooms or in the streets (the reader will see the connection soon in relation to other names made explicit in the Salamanca speech of Prince Felipe I am summarizing soon). The Harvard speech did not include these foreign polysyllable compound names of literary achievement. Why bother the natives of here and there who may have heard of these alluring sirens of beautiful language in some faraway geography yet to be explored? Thanks to García De La Concha for the acknowledgement of the delicacy of the moment, not in the original homeland of Marilee Grindle, but about it too, and the prepositional awareness is crucial here: “El español se la juega” in the original Spanish: to take a gamble, to make a bet, to take a risk  (www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2012/07/24/cultura/1343125684.html). The U.S. has been declared priority of the Instituto Cervantes in its foreign missions with near-future openings in Washington and complementary openings in Canada and Brazil (In Spanish, the “American” dimension has the U.S. as one part of the larger whole, not particularly the most promising “market,” as with the previous anecdote of the Ribera del Duero wine promotion). Some numbers delivered apropos the said official nation-state, para-university institution for which I have some interest: 87 cities, 44 countries, about 230,000 registered students, 6,500 cultural activities. The Boston area has one “classroom” (“aula”) in the Department of Romance Studies of Boston University (“El Gobierno promocionará la marca España sin incremento de gasto,”  politica.elpais.com/politica/2012/06/28/actualidad/1340914229_127076.html). Infinite modesty accordingly…

The More Intimate and Informal Speech in Salamanca

Prince Felipe delivered a more intimate speech in Salamanca short after Harvard and the interested world audience may access it freely and easily via the Casa de Su Majested el Rey de España site. Such transatlantic connectivity between the Athens of America and the little Rome of the Iberian peninsula is not really a major two-way free-trade route in the history of trans-national migration, including historic, old university and the contemporary academic market.  This second speech helps concretize the Spanish national-state initiative. It rightly provincializes it so to speak, and the verb is ever so dear to postcolonial criticism for which I still feel some hermeneutic inclination and you can already see how I may be torn in between places of family origin firmly left behind and intellectual adventures of some ambitious scope left largely impecunious and unrewarded by American “donors.” I was not present there, but I may well imagine its audience would not be too far away from the old-philology Salamanca University state-functionaries whose courses I took about 25 years ago, but perhaps I am wrong. Here, Prince Felipe talks, in what else but Spanish?, about “our homeland,” and how  Cervantes put the Spanish language high in the international sky of linguistic achievement. The professors and academics are the “new members of the mendicant orders” (misioneros in the original), not only in relation to modesty of pay and discreet social recognition, but also in relation to the difficulties they often encounter in those foreign parts and foreign missions. I might invite him to trespass the private property with me, sit with me by either statue in Louisburg Square and I promise to tell him a piece of my mind about that. There are Iberias and Iberias and García De la Concha’s variety has some intersection with Resina’s, but mostly over here, not over there. The speech is again in Spanish and promotional of the Spanish language and it is presented to Spaniards in some official capacity or business about promoting such identity of singularity of nation and singularity of language of grand 500-million numbers and it is done so in the Castilian portion of infinitely modest economic dimension crossed by the river Duero –remember the wines– of the said foreign-national geography of moderate name-recognition among the citizens of empire on this side of the Atlantic.

The audience is formed by the directors of the Instituto Cervantes –a selection of the 87 centers?; a selection of the 44 countries?, or at least of board-member representatives– and probably some of the university representatives may have been there as well. World geography is covered: the US, Brazil and Asia are deemed “critical world regions.” The stated goal: “to make sure Spanish consolidates its position as one of the two great languages of international communication in the modern world.” I am sure they have in mind more pressing “American” understanding of the sign “modern,” and less Jose Antonio Maravall’s historicization of the quarrels of old and new, of antiquities and modernities idiomatically beginning in the 16th century (“modern” already used in Spanish at that early time, believe or not, go tell your average American 16th century and see what happens).

The undisguised praise of the Prince: Spanish is a superb language (“lengua riquísima”), perfect vehicle for all the sciences and thus fitting to become a lingua franca. The Instituto Cervantes is declared the shop-window (“escaparate”) of the global reality of Spain, and also the jumping platform (“trampolín”) of its assets. These are listed as and in this order:  literature, cinema, the arts, thinking (“pensamiento”), sports, corporate interests (“empresas”), gastronomy and fashion. In hindsight, the private or corporate interests are not necessarily incompatible with the others. And I am almost certain that most Americans will raise their eyebrows at such sequencing failing to cite Borgesian mischief of taxonomies. Technology is missing, unsurprisingly so, and the visit to Harvard was combined with a visit to a technological fair in the large New York area (another was a visit to the Manhattan quarters of The New York Times, probably the Princess’s suggestion, she has a past in journalism, followed by a visit by the Princess to a primary school with a good record in bilingual education). The eloquent, if brief speech includes, yes this time, old-philological cultural names dear to García De la Concha, his dream team so to speak: Antonio de Nebrija, Francisco de Vitoria, Fray Luis de León, Miguel de Unamuno, Luis de Góngora, all of them having direct Salamanca connection, appropriately. Early Modernity is the peak of visibility petering out after the Baroque 17th century and only picking up again in the early 20th century with modest ebbs and flows ever since. This is still a matter of resilient conventionality of Spain beyond Spain, literary history and national self-identity, to echo Epps and Cifuentes, packaged for domestic consumption and delivered in foreign missions. The Harvard speech had some of that without the inclusion of the proper names, making the speech less foreign and lighter to the ear, more elevator music than anything more loaded so to speak. I wonder how many Americans would be able to place any of them in the correct timespace by one century or two, allowing them three strikes at the right continent and century, and then out. Fewer and fewer dare teach such historical materials in the increasingly “post-“ modern classes. Same thing applies to American (post-)coloniality, predictably not present by such name in either speech.

The Salamanca speech of the Prince concludes with a beautiful double negative, a projection of a desirable belief system, of good things to come, poetically speaking in elegant historical fashion: “truthfully, I do not hope for what will most certainly will not come (“no espero en mi verdad lo que no creo”). One can make the connection with Kennedy since a quote of his was included in the Harvard speech (“Unfortunately, too many Americans think that America was discovered in 1620 when the pilgrims came to my own State, and they forget the tremendous adventure of the 16th century and the early 17th century in the Southern and Southwest United States”. He described it as a great lack among Americans not to know enough about the “whole Spanish influence, exploration and development” in those times”). Prince Felipe was in essence treading on the shimmering light of such lack of fortune forty years later on the American side of the Western equation. Góngora’s line feels Kennedyesque also in the sense of “do not ask what your country can do for you but ask instead what you can do for your country,” or that the test of your ambition should come from within, that you should be self-directed, etc. The interpellation is here clearer than it ever was at Harvard: I have the firm conviction, which is also yours, that we will be great, that we can do it, that we will be going places, etc. But this direct equivalence with the American President, with any really, would be quite out of place for most “natives” in the “little Rome,” the wise and bewitching capital of the impoverished region of Castile of the medium-size nation exporting the unquestionable beauty of the Spanish language and little else besides some good wine, perhaps. Salamanca blonde or Cambridge bald? Castilian brunette or Beantown blonde of Irish descent? Make sure there is a way out.

What do we really talk about when we talk about Spanish in the United States of America? Well, there are many things here in between hispanicity and Americanity, the national label of Spain is one of them, but never alone. One final time: “Spanish” remains, at least for me, the excuse and the pretext to look into mechanisms of knowledge production with a weary eye on the immediate circumstance, still call it the U.S. of A., but one must quickly learn to circumscribe corporate interests inside such a vast timespace of bewitching complexity. Why should Spanish be any different from Hungarian, Portuguese, French, Chinese, etc. and prioritized over the so-called “critical languages,” for immediate applicability in selected environments of business and finance, and State Department endeavors? I am asking the question because it is not immediately obvious that Spanish will behave differently from other communities who left their languages behind as they became progressively American. And how inviting is such horizon for the first-generation collection of immigrant professionals kicked out by the beach line with their dirty boots by the strength of the waves of the Atlantic ocean? Yet, what do we mean by languages in our technological times of operating systems of computers and of faulty numbers in financial meltdowns and bailouts, etc.? The language/s you call your own may not be all desirable in all instances and this applies to imperial languages, English and Spanish, clearly in a disproportionate (dis-) relationship that no cultural branch of the Spanish Government will be able to balance out, while the European horizon is receding from the U.S. leaving it behind as we speak (proliferation of post-Hegelian historicisms, mounting Hispanicization, post-imperialisms are other possible “storms” in the rainy skies of our immediate future). But Spanish is European and American, old and new, minority and majority, color and white, language and other non-linguistic things, etc., and you may still catch a fleeting shadow of such historical presence in the classrooms, but only if you make haste. It is also in an immensely fragile position increasing less affording a decent professional life inside most if not all institutions of higher learning in the home of the brave and the land of the free.

This has been accordingly a critical account of the quick visit of the foreign Prince and its speech passing through a certain institution of recognizable prestige, but not quite so much so in relation to the ever so epistemically narrow Spanish academic field, and the dimension called Latin America is never far behind, dimensions and studies, yet always within if not against the pressures of the immediate circumstance of the pro-business corporation. I very much doubt there will be a significantly meaningful change, what about a dent?, perhaps a broken finger in the allegorical statue of knowledge production in the gardens of relative, inherited privilege? The present does not augur well for the immediate future of academic Spanish inside the generic corporate cultural industry. They will pick the right choice after having tried all others, the English prime minister memorably mentioned. I see less eloquence over here, also inside the number-one institution of global prestige, go and ask the Shangai Ranking of World Universities if you have any doubts.

And yet, Harvard, operative with good “imperial” state connections, is now running with a strategic cost-reduction auto-pilot hitting where else but where it hurts the most in the already debilitated foreign humanities, in its diachronic linguistic memory, its accumulated experience, historical and critical intelligence, never to forget about the proper wages and decent payment of those professionals who have devoted decades of their life away from any nativisms to deal with some of the issues aforementioned. But Spanish is no exception and it is short-hand for other or most disciplines that must be included in this crisis, identity, monetary, epistemological, ontological, etc., no matter how you are willing to construct your identity claims, whether minority, diversity, Catalan, Chinese, or Japanese, or alternative sexualities, petty-bourgeois with more or less charm, or Hispanic in the proper sense of the U.S. Census notion of the term that mostly leaves the “Spain” a bit out of the national game that matters most.  Nothing new under the sun here and I am still defending the need for greater exposure, more bite, protestation and denunciation, even agitation, pace Resina, who agitates nothing in the immediate vicinity, as far as I can see, who vaults no fence, breaks no little finger of no statue in spaces of relative privilege. In short, I am defending more Page 3 of The Sun if you wish, coarse yellow-press stand-in for more daring and graphic, more improper, loud, even shrill, camp-and-kitsch strategies of betrayal of expectations, but also high art and diachronic dimensions against all “modern” shrinking, particularly of the conventional American kind, but also over and above the proper-Bostonian, fenced-in private gardens of the corporate tulips and elite-reproduction, dissonant eloquence also inevitably against the strategic lack of language of the managers and the coy silence of a few good colleagues, the good, the bad and the ugly, in suits and ties, moustaches somewhat trimmed, and their Sunday dresses, but also in sandals and rumpled shirts and mismatched socks, bowler hats for commencement ceremonies and Che-Guevara-t-shirts for barbeques in the backyard of the Hispanic House, and funny accents in both languages.

Retroactively speaking then, what are we to make of Prince Felipe’s history lesson re-activating the discreetly unconventional or atypical history lesson that proclaims the sustainable importance of “Spain in America,” i.e. simultaneously US of America within the two “continents,” North and South America, as well as the mono-continentality (from Antarctica to Patagonia), or the “Americas,” sign which remains artificial, politically correct, not fully idiomatic in idiomatic English in the classrooms and the streets. Think of “American football” versus the most popular world sport and how the name gets displaced and detached in the U.S. Mutatis mutandis, this is the emphasis of the political unconscious I am attacking: the impoverishment and a detachment under the false premise of a position of historical, social, political, linguistic privilege that is not sustainable. Our football versus their soccer, yet another sign of “the closing of the American mind,” and I am using the book title of course ironically. Mutatis mutandis: the very use of the sign “America.” Monolinguals of English educated in the U.S. will get tangled up irreparably in these twigs. No self-respecting bilingual English / Spanish educated also elsewhere ever will. Epistemologically, I have no doubts about which way I lean. And yet, I am wondering if university structures allow for this type of inquisition, also into the real possibility that the European influence is in free fall, and not in a pleasant Canadian Tom-Petty pop-song style of “free falling.” What about the history lesson of the Prince, the places mentioned, the places and the events he did not mention? Why should diachronic place names (toponyms) hold the most significant meaning in contemporary situations of increasing dematerialization and ever-expanding virtualization of social energies? The history lesson of the Prince looks increasingly like a late desperate attempt on the part of an antiquarian institution of moderate appeal to cling to that European legacy on the part of a former power, currently a medium-size nation, inside the proud and discombobulated nation, yet with the eyes mostly on business possibilities in moments of dire straits on both sides of the mirror in whatever dimension, public or private you may wish to cut it. Diplomatically speaking, the speech was proper, even if pressing some buttons of conventional American — and also Bostonian and also Harvard, metonymically speaking, mind you– fit of absent-mindedness that will not be corrected any time soon. Is it possible that I might have attended an early funeral of some figure of relative importance, in the vernacular, the entierro de la sardina? And referentiality goes in many directions, myself included.

Conservatively speaking then, at least from the ever-changing terrain of America: still fancy rallying around the signs “Spanish,” but also “English,” “literature” and “culture,” and going predictable ways, or the opposite, and negatively do something else, and what would that be exactly? I am reminded of the video “Cuentos Patrióticos” (Patriotic Tales) by the artist Francis Alÿs in which a line of sheep go around the mast of the mast of the Zócalo in Mexico City addressed in a previous culture bite. The great Buñuel has many recreations of the discreet charm of the (petty) bourgeoisie, characters caught up in the incongruity of word, deed, omission, silence, desire and lack of it, stuck in their miserable living unable to get out of it and venture into something new. So, go out there and tinker with impediments, predictabilities, limitations, etc.

Could it possibly be that Resina is fundamentally conservative variation within the Procrustean bed of cultural differentialism of the theme of the foreign academic returning time and again to the city of origin and thus sell such cultural merchandise he must claim to represent to the American customers? Isn’t much of the work in the foreign languages and literatures caught up in this generalized tendency to hold on to the immigrant or origin-marker of identity yet within the established frames of cultural differentialism within the more or less stringent modality of nativism or patriotism or jingoism? What is the big difference between the standard liberal persuasion or more vociferous and also more honest explicit republicanism? And still no agitation? From the American perspective, federal nation but also corporation, Prince Felipe and Resina pretty much operate within the same modest market share of a certain international-cultural differentialism within a hegemonic same (Western civilization, Europe, from Plato-to-Nato, “white,” Christian, European Union market, allies in the global war on terrorism, etc.). On the other hand, the Prince’s discourse was hardly seductive Master Discourse making no big claims about history, aesthetics, politics, religion (interesting silence about the historical horizon of difference within Anglo-centric societies of the Baroque). Resina’s claims are even more reduced, it seems to me. What is the desirable content of his “Iberian Studies” if not the silence about the core of the Catalanism that cannot speak its name in Catalan fully? And yet, Zizek, with or without the pan-logicism of his Hegelianism revisited, helps us put the paralogism in the center of the critical attention, in his case via Lacanianism. Should you wish to keep your distance from these two major schools of thought, you may still wish consider that speech (or language, or thinking) is not the be all and end all of the “house of being” and also of any political performance and symbolic code of collective intelligibility.

The Harvard speech was mostly a piece of self-advertisement –the institution of the Monarchy not in a good moment, the relative visibility of the “brand Spain,” side by side the international promotion of the Spanish language, still with healthy numbers, yet much less so institutionally beyond elementary classroom levels of basic instruction in the lands of Uncle Sam. The Salamanca speech aforementioned is a smaller, more modest piece of the same cloth, another bird of the same feather flying around with the perennial storks around the church and monument towers of the provincial Castilian city. What I witnessed at Harvard was strictly speaking an idiotic performance in relation to form and content but also its social function, as such also scrupulously diplomatic and proper, and its excess of logic or rationality, its para-logic and Baudrillaresque dimensions, go predictably in many directions, hitting many faces with the fabled pie of the classic American silent comedy, mine included. In this fork of the road, what side to take? The quiet side or the more boisterous side? The dumb blonde or the husky brunette? My option has been not tiptoe ever so quietly through the official academic tulips of moderate seduction. Against the normality of an anti-historicism breaking upon any sustainable notion of foreignness of any epistemic importance, I cannot help but feel that almost any notion of tradition, almost any fleeting awareness of old or canonical forms, has become almost an impossible burden for most Americans, hence their free falling into nothing but new, ever-so modern, and yet no postmodern forms. Oblivion and mindlessness and timespace disorientations and gerrymanderings have thus a structural function at the core of the institutions barely making it, as your survival skills in the foreign humanities ascertain time and again.

Allegorically speaking then, a good and decent representative of the constitutional European Monarchy, quaint institution, this time from the margins of Western Europe, of Plato to Nato say, outside Zizek’s “holy” Trinity of English pragmatism, French revolution and German idealism, boutique Europe, La Roja, Almodóvar, language tourism within the tourism industry and most recently undergoing the visibility of financial meltdown, bailout, etc. pays a visit to the number-one university-education institution in the whole wide world, U.S. and U.K. institutions crowd the top-ten according to Shangai, and still delivers an above-average historical lesson for this sort of diplomatic and business event. Such history lesson has everything to do with the interconnections between the Spanish-speaking Europe and the English-speaking US of America inside the larger (pan-)American or hemispheric dimension speaking also in French and Brazil and indigenous languages. The speech rectifies a native obliviousness of things Spanish inside its back yard of the historical amnesia, and the repression is fierce appertaining to territories currently deemed “American” (1846-8 Mexican-American and 1898 Spanish-American wars explain some of that; and Prince Felipe tactfully, explicitly said not to worry to his audience that he was not going to address the latter event). It is an uphill battle for the South-West to claim a big piece of the American national identity. Boston occupies such a privileged location still to this day and such privilege is built upon the obliviousness underlined by Prince Felipe and correctly so. And yet such abbreviated historical lesson generated a landscape with not many figures (the conventional celebration of the Baroque magnificence was missing in action here, and also mention of the Christian legacies with ties to Roman Catholicism, a repressed dimension within American Protestantism). The Harvard speech was mostly a piece of advertisement, a marketing campaign seeking the coupling of Spanish and Spain and the defense of the faith buttressed in the big number of native speakers and potential customers and consumers. Little did he address that Spanish is also typically the marker of structural, historical subordination in the U.S., unambiguously by the time of this writing and not only in the East Coast geography by the river Charles where this writing is taking place. The situation is unlikely to change dramatically any time soon, call it glacial pace of change if you wish, and the princely encomium happened in the midst of dramatic moments of the foreign humanities –no jobs, no living wages– and this is the real thing, the big obscenity diplomatically left off the table of discussion. Hence, this virtual rescue operation, this message in the bottle, sent out to the whole wide world.

 

But the event in question afforded no discussion and Prince Felipe’s Baudrillardian performance can be seen, with or without the occasional old-philological-humanities touch of the delicate prose, my bet is on García de la Concha, mostly as the discourse of marginal capital seeking greater connectivity, even “universalism.” The core is business, Spanish business endeavors is truly what is stake, and this self-affirmation is happening inside the increasing peripheralization of Europe in the U.S., t also inside the years of Obama management of the U.S. decline. The representatives of the peninsula dimension would like to play in the major leagues? Is this the case? Circumstantial evidence will tell you no. Ours is the historical time of abundance of lemons. How refreshing the flavor of the lemonade? ¿Zumo o jugo? Limo-nada, res, res de res, let us not be too cruel, some of it, moderate importance, a modicum of visibility, including Resina’s Iberianism. But he would say Catalanism if he could be more visible inside the free trade of humanistic ideas.  U.S. nativism remains in the meantime strong with precious little tolerance of any bilingual hairs, not many, but also wild hares of skepticism and agitation, which may show up there in the prairie, also not many. I am yet to find an American institution in which bilingualism moves graciously, effortlessly, epistemically speaking responding to the good thirst of the customers who are always right, as you know. I must say that I foresee a mounting anti-Hispanic disposition that has little to do with Spain as such and more to do with Mexico and Latin America forcing a change from within, but this is yet to reach the institutions in dramatic fashion and it is yet to be written. I hope it happens in my lifetime. In relation to the private garden of relative privilege, one reminder: Samuel P. Huntington put Beacon Hill as good example of desirable American patriotism in times of institutional uncertainty and political trouble against the challenges to American national identity the Hispanic dimension represents. If you enemy picks apples, would you pick apples too? Mutatis mutandis: corporate universities in the U.S. as well?

I want to throw out there the possibility of the stateless (the apátrida) option against the tacit assumption of foreigners teaching their foreign language and their foreign language only, mind you, at the modest grammatical or literacy levels, kept in the basement of institutions as it were, against the standard context of a virulent monolingual society, inevitably from a nativist (American-)English-language standpoint that, add insult to the self-inflicted injury, in the case of the U.S. must account for multilingual immigration only two generations ago for the vast majority of its current population. Underlining the peculiar American intensity of the repression of its immigrant dimension accordingly, I am throwing such utopianism out there imaginatively against standard academic practices of hiring and retention inside academic sectors, but also against the non-book context of the 2012 London Olympic Games that I have used for extra decoration, colorful if you wish. My disposition reminas expansive maximalist rather than introspective or secluded minimalism, more socio-historical than individualist refuge and direct communication with the deity as it were. The turn to the screw hence: what about doing a non-representational and anti-commodified variety of humanistic knowledge production, at least occasionally, in ways such that may disrupt if ever so slightly automatic predictabilities about labor-ethnic equation, thus making social things no less, but more confusing. Now, that would be a nice outlet for any predilections for risk and complexity. In the academic spaces, the foreign space appears co-opted almost ab initio by the representational expectation typically from a native number-one position that automatically makes of such foreignness subordinate, faulty, adjunt, background history of the world but mostly for idiotic self-glory (one more time, the NBC coverage for the U.S. territory of the Olympic Games have signified to me at least the narrow-horizon convergence of corporate control of image and language wrapped up exclusively in the flag-waving, US-number one and number-one only and sound-bite jingoism in the invisible presence of non-winning US athletes and the rest of the whole wide world in this order).

 

Such extremity of receding big world is institutionally promoted, and easily spotted, I would defend, in mainstream mass media and most academic settings. Equally, such normality is automatically realized the moment you are willing to consider where foreign nationals free fall into what allocated bits and pieces to get to talk about what portion of the world, and free is the free trade is the flow back and forth among various nationalities and geographies hitting larger vistas (Anglo representatives may be afforded a greater circulation, but inevitably observing a hierarchy, think of Hollywood stereotyping running the English-speaking options, U.S., Great Britain and its former commonwealth colonies, and its embedded “white supremacy” against the “rainbow coalition” of the world, and your racial-profiling glasses will deliver identical arrangement in the (foreign) humanities in the immediate circumstance). Where else would the natives place Prince Felipe’s official train if not in the semi-peripheries of the first world of Europe in a process of decreasing importance?

The self-imposed task would then be to continue exploring the “non-,” “counter-“ and “anti-“ and “para-“ possibilities for humanistic knowledge production, whether in public or in private, self-style liberal or conservative, religious and non-religious institutions, and see what routes and possibilities may happen accordingly. One immediate theoretical consequence of the reticence to play the singular representational role is that you may not get to be a player in the Olympic Games, one competition among others (and you may want to revisit the consequences of tinkering with the orchestration of such symbolism for example in the famous Black Panther salute of the two American athletes in the 1968 Olympic Games). I am emphasizing the nationality card, but I have in mind other markers as well as they may get attached or not to “Spanish.” I remain somewhat skeptical of the strategy of non-denominationalism that falls straight into the open arms of the liberal ideology of repressive, theoretically all-inclusive tolerance, but only in so far as the hegemonic template is not disrupted. I am not necessarily advocating a society of ready-wear of markers that could be attached and detached at will. This is again the liberal myth of self-definition that institutions promote publicly, while they go to the backrooms to use the data as they see fit. And then what, you may ask, in the land of the free and home of the brave? Play with this or that marker among the facilitators, the managers, the retailers, the free-traders, the shop-owners and the shop-lifters and what? Well, Ortega y Gasset had a potentially productive synonym for nationalism. He equated it with “project.” So, the focus is on the process. What is the future project that one would like to bring about in mobilizing such national marker, native or foreign, or any other marker for that matter? Can one think of the combinatory portability of other markers (class, race and ethnicity, language, gender, age, profession, education, etc.)? But we can all see instantly degrees of portability in such markers. How far do you think you can go in such a fashion of reconfiguration, negatively speaking, enduring the process of indefinition and interrogation, free falling as it were, with no easy endings and no guarantees?

Such might perhaps be the beginning of a knowledge adventure that would certainly not go for the predictable places of national representativeness of the foreign nation, and of the “limpia, fija y da splendor” of the singular positivities included in the Epps and Cifuentes volume title (Spain, modernity, history and identity with or without the adjectives of literary and cultural). The reader is invited to put its favorite singular nouns and you may notice that the foreign national marker is doubled, even naturalized and that the volume is in English inside a Harvard departmental unit that does most of its pedagogic business in Spanish. Hence, the modern American conditioning delivers yet again classic diglossia, institutionally and structurally constituted, at least among (Iberian) peninsularists. Perhaps, a certain “nihilism” may be brought to bear some fruit, also lemons?, in relation to the conventional emollient discourse around cultural goods presented in the conventional window-dressing whether nationalized or not within the still resilient conventionality of Cold-War area-studies, however torn (“brand Spain” is here but one modest variety). Prince Felipe was one instance of such official representativeness yet mostly in the interest of localized capital currently undergoing uncertainty, and fluidity, as the standard language of the corporation would have it, but also unemployment, bailout, deficit, economic dire straits… Would you dare let go of such imaginary community, also professionally?

 

 

 

 

The double irony is on me perhaps holding the missing finger of the Columbus statue, historical ghost which we can imagine ambling in the Louisburg Square and tapping me on the shoulder to remind me that I am a dual citizen of both Spain and America, and that I have spent half my adult life in the latter portion, and that my intellectual work has been progressively moving away from Spain, without ever finding stable ground in the Americas, and how could it be otherwise?, and that such administrative gesture of holding two passports will not necessarily translate into the double love of the dumb blonde and the husky brunette in the running joke aforementioned. Like the ready-made answer of the dear acquaintance in the Boston pub scene, “I would give 40 passports to my newborn daughter, who already has 5, if I could!” The sense of automatic, innocent belonging is no longer a good and even desirable option among immigrant intellectuals, whether you happen to be happy academic or successful manager of an institution of higher learning, or not.  If it is not really possible to signify entirely outside capitalist mechanisms of signification, it is at least possible to do it so partially, these pages would like to put themselves as one example, and to protest to the limits of processes of social control and silencing mechanisms, even mocking, not necessarily amiably, the protocols of acceptability and respectability, visibility, hierarchization and “repressive tolerance” the self-styled liberal society hypocritically enforces, also inside academic environments.

In the contemplation of such horizons, risks are taken. Loose lips sink ships? Let us take more risks and see if we can find tall ships that will take us many more intellectual places. Bring back again the uninvited, inspirational, disruptive guest to the critical situations informing the foreign humanities in the home of the brave:

Effectively, there are no castes without outcasts –as long as there are castes, there will be an excessive, excremental zero-value element, which, while formally part of the system, has no proper place within it. Gandhi obfuscates the paradox, clinging to the (im)possibility of a harmonious structure that would fully integrate all its elements. The paradox of the Untouchables is that they are doubly marked by the excremental logic: not only do they deal with impure excrement, their own formal status within the social body is that of excrement. Hence the properly dialectical paradox: to break out of the caste system, it is not enough to reverse the Untouchable’s status, elevating them into the “children of God.” The first step should rather be exactly the opposite one: to universalize their excremental status to the whole of humanity (Zizek, Less than Nothing, ibidem, p. 763, italics in the original).

 

I submit to you, perhaps colorfully, that practitioners of academic Spanish occupy such modest social location, “untouchable,” and that institutional Spanish in the universities and colleges is such “excrement” in the contemporary United States of the Age of Obama. Perhaps your Lacanianism will be able take such paragraph to many places. I am sure your coldness towards Lacan or Hegel can still contemplate the signification process being proposed here apropos the structural conditioning of the low-wage foreign-humanities practitioners and place it imaginatively, almost in the manner of Swift’s floating island Laputa, inside a money economy that automatically and consequently deprioritizes the liberal arts inside (corporate) universities. Spanish is surely one token sign, symptom, of the remainder, the unfitting element, the disruptive dimension that does not yet get caught neatly in taxonomies and official census numbers, the awkward, uncomfortable, messy, “culturally different,” even “strange,” European and American, high and mass, white and non-white, racialized and ethnicized and not quite white, the “shit” accordingly, that poses by sheer will of existence an existential threat to its bigger cousin, at least the extreme normality of the jingo standpoint of the American English modality, English-mostly, English-only, strutting its stuff in and out institutions (I am almost tempted to validate gestures of artists such as Damien Hirst  and Tracy Emin et al. within the “Young British Artists” nomenclature, and New York painters such as Andres Serrano, giving “shit” to the world as it were, accordingly). Aren’t these signs (“humanities,” “liberal arts,” but also “philosophy,” and “art,” whether attached to “Spanish” or “Hispanic” or not) this “shit,” repudiated, trivialized and degraded dimensions, kept confined and minimalistic, like tumbled-down, naked mummies, in the shop-windows during times of sales and bargains, largely apart from mainstream symbolic production in the American English vernacular, hardly ever, or better never, persuasively eloquent about such bad education? But I will behave with scrupulous politeness in the end.

Perhaps the best one can do is the promotion of some disruption and even agitation of normal or natural symbolic landscapes in the U.S. In other words, the expansiveness of the excrement of the symbolic production: that which cannot be kept entirely out of sight, the Bataillean excess, the foreign jouissance, the crowded population of unexpected sites and peoples and names, of toponyms, the diachronicities that make virtually all modernities look paltry, miserable merchandise. This language focus is emphatic about not being solely or even exclusively about language, or the promotion of this or that foreign language, also not about the foreign mission towards the liberal toleration of all languages, like the Gandhian children of God, at least according to Zizek’s account. This is instead about interruptions and betrayal of expectations, about smearing the white walls of the institutions, semiotically, epistemically speaking of course.

You bet there will be those who will join forces with the managerial handling that will not want to get splashed by such “dirt,” and smeared by such “shit,” and a few good colleagues will promote abjection and debasement, typically “old” Americans handling “new” Americans, but also foreign nationals of grey hair or no hair to the younger crowd of comparable race-and-ethnic profiling, obfuscating the crisis by talking of supply and demand, while holding hands with the gate-keepers and the border-patrol officers. The typical conduct unbecoming: the anti-intellectualism at the core of the academic culture inside a process of degradation hollowing itself out of the way, but perhaps selectively in some areas –clearly the Spanish units within the general humanities—and the institution will seek its conservation and survival by letting go of those units that will not manage to protect themselves scrupulously following the capitalist creed, most often than without persuasive rhetoric (another turn to the screw: sobering thought to remember that Samuel P. Huntington equated institutionality with conservatism, and he knew what he was doing in his insisting anti-Hispanic disposition). I submit to you that we may well be dealing with “liberal” versions of the same fundamental conservatism. Hence the preferred hypothesis of an existential and intellectual choice is here that of the expansion of the obscenity, so that it smears and splashes everyone around, knowing full well that such logic will not break any time soon.

True obscenity lies thus above and below the false politeness and bland mannerisms, American style, of the managers implementing corporate privatizations of social relations in the “knowledge factory,” a felicitous term coming from a critical type of sociology. Humanistic knowledge production is here directly implicated, how could it not be?, whatever lingering shade such increasingly invisible  and inaudible allegorical figure may project in the present situation. It is not clear any more if it is a little bit more than grammaticality in the foreign language and basic literacy skills in both languages (the official lingo calls it “communicational, intercultural competence” and this is the god of small things to which everyone visibly appears to kneel at least publicly). The general disposition, perhaps the final provocation, has been to try to move memory and desire towards non-representational, non-identitarian, non-capitalist modalities of knowledge production, unevenly within any national/istic claims, always plus ultra, always “beyond,” and socially and historically expansive always in direct relation to the Lilliputianism on wheels that passes as “modern,” ever so frightfully, in the U.S. Spanish will be a major disruptive force or it will not be anything significant in the U.S., but also elsewhere, at least from an internationalist perspective. And both majority languages, Spanish and English, obviously marking a genuine divide in the previous adjective, are caught up in a deplorable systemic and structural anti-historicism, which is as American as apple pie: “one of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory” (Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai). To which the recently deceased Gore Vidal would add: yes, it is the “United States of Amnesia.” Prince Felipe’s history lesson, however self-servicing, is very welcome in this context, accordingly. But it is also profoundly insufficient.

And what if this bad joke wins the battle of the day and the general war of ideas in the monopoly marketplace of ideas also inside education industries once called by the old name of universities?  How far away are these timespaces from regular stores where cornflakes, television sets and computers are sold? What stories to tell, also about “history”? One big battle I will pay attention to is the one between hegelianisms and historicisms, or the desire for one big universalism against the skeptical disposition for more pagan or polytheistic, more regionalist and circumscribed localizations, or between some modalities of cultural studies and some modalities of postcolonial studies, but this is good jargon of authenticity not for the many, and “German ideology” to be unpacked another time and place and yes Hispanic and Spanish and Latin American Studies are here directly implicated.

Stubbornly then, what about turning the previous prefixes into the more aggressive negatives (non-representational into anti-representational, non-identitarian into anti-identitarian, non-nationalist into anti-natinalist, non-capitalist into anti-capitalist)? What would that mean? Would institutions want the proliferation of these children of God? Would customers and consumers be right, and always rightly so, in wanting such cultural and intellectual products of the critical intelligence that puts any nativist claims on hold? But isn’t a mighty corporation always already a multi-corporation, a vast network of social relations extending far and fast by definition? If so, one would like to travel at least as far and as fast, if not plus ultra, further and faster. I have protested current deteriorations of professional relations embedded in the sign “Spanish,” and I will continue protesting these against a commonplace attitude of omerta complicity. I still defend the need to expose such sociologies of knowledge production, from a purely epistemological standpoint, not to mention political and even “ontological” dimensions (back to the disquisitions involving Heidegger and Hegel, even Lacan, if you wish). There are de-institutionalizations currently taking place, typically with no poetic and graceful linguistic decorations marking them. Is your intelligence and your language to remain smilingly here, polite and nice, while tiptoeing through the official tulips, saying nothing because there is nothing good to say, predictably captured within identity markers serving the narrow horizon of customer-and-consumer satisfaction? Will you risk failing to provide satisfaction and yet of what kind? In Rome, do what the Romans do? And also in little Rome? And what about the Athens of America? Salvación de las circunstancias, remember? Ten years ago, I finished a good piece of writing on Francisco de Vitoria of all people, trying to prove that this effort was no antiquarian historicism, that I was trying to make a living in so doing. It is now truer than ever.

The deteriorated subway system of the Boston-Cambridge area, affectionately called the “T-System,” includes some bad Spanish in some of its wagons. The bilingual sign reads: “Passenger Emergency Intercommunication System at the end of the Train / Sistema de Intercomunicación para Pasajeros en el Extremo del Train.” In good Spanish, it should say something like: “Sistema de Comunicación para Situaciones de Emergencia situado entre los Vagones del Tren,” or in short “Sistema de Comunicación para Emergencias entre Vagones.” I haven’t seen any other “foreign language” used and one can think of various possibilities here. Imagine you make use of it in relation to the critical situations of the foreign humanities thus described, who would come to the rescue? American-style super-heroes? Handsome firefighters of the land of the free? Prince Felipe and Princess Leticia? The fastest and most reliable collection of favorite colleagues? Xena, the warrior? Will they use a fully grammatical Spanish, the eloquence of the American vernacular? Most importantly will they get you out? But does “out” really exist in these intellectual matters of symbolic production?

 

Note: This is selection of a larger piece of writing and coherence and flow may suffer accordingly.

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