CONSIDERING RESEARCH AND NATIONALITY (AND THE PROMPTINGS OF AN ILLUSTRIOUS VISITOR)

The research group I belong to, led by Àngels Carabí of UB and devoted to the study of masculinities in American fiction, received last Friday an illustrious visitor: Prof. Victor Seidler, an emeritus teacher of social theory at Goldsmiths in London (although he trained originally as a philosopher). I owe Prof. Seidler an important insight into my own position as a researcher and I was very happy to have the unexpected chance to thank him, as I did.

As it turns out, we had met back in 2000 in Seville at a conference on masculinity. He listened to my paper on John Grisham’s The Chamber, a quite interesting novel about a young lawyer who decides to represent his own grandfather, a Klansman sentenced to death for a terrorist attack. Prof. Seidler approached me later and turned small talk into quite an interrogation about my motivations to analyse this novel. He soon got out of me that my two grandfathers fought on opposite sides of the Spanish Civil War but kept totally silent on what they actually did. He made me see this way that I was using Grisham’s novel vicariously to understand the gaps in the history of my family’s men. Touché. Very much so.

I know now that Prof. Seidler is a staunch defender of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Yet, the point I’m making here is not just that he succeeded in his inspired (psycho)analysis of the family silences nagging me onto doing research on masculinities. I’m more interested on how in his long Friday seminar he insisted that all researchers working on English Studies in Spain should consider how our histories, personal and collective, intersect with what we do as scholars.

Noticing that throughout the session he frequently mentioned our Catholic roots, I eventually explained to him that we’re not used to being treated as ‘Spanish researchers’. We somehow work under the pretence that our roots play no role in what we do and although we work on foreign cultures we hardly ever bring to our research a consideration of the point of view from which we write. Logically, from his own point of view our ‘difference’ is what makes our research particularly relevant, for we can contribute fresh insights into dominant Anglo-American cultural criticism.

The point I needed to make, though, is that A-list journals and academic presses do not favour this type of ‘difference,’ preferring instead a kind of universalism that leaves it (and us) out. Since Cultural Studies exists, you’re very welcome to making your own identity an integral part of research. Nevertheless, though in principle there’s no obstacle to presenting yourself as you wish, my impression is that there are limits. At least, I have never heard of, say, a Basque or a Bulgarian analysis of James Joyce, though that might be extremely relevant.

Possibly, thus, many of us have chosen to work on English Studies because, unconsciously or not, we have made the choice of avoiding the tangles of our own culture(s). The downside is that those tangles stay on untangled and, besides, we’re asked to pass off as what we’re not: natives to Anglo-American culture (or honorary members). Yes, you’re right, Prof. Seidler, we should write about that. Yet, I doubt there’s a ‘market’ and so, we struggle on, with our backs to our own culture(s), stranded, very appropriately given the topic of our research, in no man’s land.

Thank you, once more, for the insights and the encouragement to move ahead.

3 thoughts on “CONSIDERING RESEARCH AND NATIONALITY (AND THE PROMPTINGS OF AN ILLUSTRIOUS VISITOR)

  1. Well, literature in general gives breathing space, you’re right, and foreign literatures do not only give you an excuse not to think about what you are, they also transform what you are into what you were. But you’re right that one may too easily assume as a kind of mas an uprooted, “international airport” or international conference style. It has often struck me that this ultimate signs of professional internationalism may also be, paradoxically, a kind of inverted provincialism—trying to appear more of a citizen of the world than you really are. And ignoring many of the real-life tangles you mention.

  2. OOps, looks like I was writing too fast for my keyboard. Rephrase:

    “Well, literature in general gives breathing space, you’re right, and foreign literatures do not only give you an excuse not to think about what you are, they also transform what you are into what you were. But you’re right that one may too easily assume as a kind of mask an uprooted, “international airport” or international conference style. It has often struck me that this ultimate sign of professional internationalism may also be, paradoxically, a kind of inverted provincialism—trying to appear more of a citizen of the world than you really are. And ignoring, meanwhile, many of the real-life tangles you mention.”

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