ENJOYING BIBLIOGRAPHY LIVE! (AND CALLING FOR THE RETURN OF CONVERSATION)

Comparing the lists of works cited in pre-1990s bibliography and in recent academic publications, it is obvious that we are about to reach a critical turning point after which our secondary sources will overwhelm our writing. At least this is how I feel.

There are, I think, two justifications for the use of quotations in academic work. One is the need to prove that you know how to find the relevant sources–a task now made easier by digital databases but also more onerous, precisely because you can download in one afternoon a torrent of information that takes time you don’t have to digest. The other is the need to show that your argumentation is in touch with current debates on your topic and that you’re not rediscovering the wheel.

Beyond these two factors, it used to be the case that quotations were used to strengthen a point of your thesis or because the author in question expressed an idea with greater accuracy than you could muster. Now, every article begins with a barrage of increasingly short quotations and numerous parenthetical references to other sources simply alluded to by author’s surname, before a thesis can be minimally discerned. This is usually offered but only developed, if at all, many paragraphs later into the article as the barrage of quotations and references continues. In contrast, pre-1990s articles often rely on a maximum of ten sources, often no more than six, leaving thus room for close reading–which is what we need to do–and more importantly, for the expression of new ideas in creative ways.

How have we reached this situation? It’s a simply matter of numbers: the amount of English Studies specialists publishing new work in the 21st century is simply staggering. This means that in order to produce a reasonable list of works cited that does not consume 50% of the paper, as researchers we need to invest an enormous time in a) making a list of the relevant bibliography, b) reading as much and as fast as we can, c) taking notes. Then, once we have amassed about as many words as we can write (this happens to me every time), we need to start paring down all the information so painstakingly amassed in order to select the few precious words we can quote. I tend to write much more than I need for the limited word count we can fill in journal articles or collective books, which means that I need to weigh very carefully every secondary source I insert, hoping nobody will notice omissions. Needless to say, I try but do not always manage to read in depth all the sources I use, for there must be a balance between the time we consume in writing each piece and its importance in our research.

This issue of the proliferation of secondary sources is a problem affecting all topics, since there are specialists in all areas. I grant that more bibliography is generated on the canonical classics than on newer work but writing about some popular favourites–for instance, The Hunger Games–is also daunting. Basically, no matter what you want to discuss it takes much longer to combine your writing with the sources than to express what you wish to say. My student tutorees often complain that once they read the bibliography on their topic they feel dismayed rather than encouraged, and almost crowded out of their dissertations by the many other researchers they need to name. This was one of the reasons why I started writing this very blog: to be able to express my ideas in a simple, direct way without the compulsory search for bibliography–here I just quote what I really need to quote–and the insertion of footnotes.

In Catalan Studies matters are, naturally, very different. The number of specialists is tiny in comparison to those in English Studies, which means that whole stretches of Catalan Literature are still unexplored (or neglected, depending on how you look at it). Last Saturday I presented the collective book I have edited, Explorant Mecanoscrit del segon origen: Noves lectures (Orciny Press, http://www.orcinypress.com/producto/explorant-mecanoscrit-del-segon-origen-noves-lectures/), which is a translation of the monographic issue published in English in 2017 by the online journal Alambique (https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/alambique/vol4/iss2/). I still marvel that this is pioneering work–sorry to brag–despite the fact that Manuel de Pedrolo’s best-known volume (he published 128!) has sold more than 1,500,000 copies since 1974 when it appeared and has been read practically by every Catalan speaker under 50. There was a gap to fill in, it seems, and I’m glad to have helped.

If you look at the works cited list for each of the six articles in the new volume, you will immediately see that the bibliography on Pedrolo is far more limited than that on his anglophone equivalents, such as Graham Greene or George Orwell. We (the six authors) have nonetheless used the whole bag of tricks to give each of our essays the expected list of 25/35 secondary sources, almost scrapping the bottom of the barrel and bringing in an assortment of tangential items (such as newspaper articles, documentaries and so on) into our work. I have enjoyed, for once, the certainty that the limited list of extant sources is all the available bibliography there is, and relished my familiarity with most of the entries.

This is why last Wednesday 24 was such an exceptional day for me. I was invited to participate in the one-day conference at the Universitat de Barcelona, ‘Manuel de Pedrolo, una mirada oberta’, and I had the immense pleasure to see in the same room most specialists in Pedrolo–almost the complete bibliography! In no particular order: Antoni MunnĂ©-JordĂ , VĂ­ctor MartĂ­nez-Gil, Àlex MartĂ­n, Elisabet Armengol, Anna Maria Villalonga, Patrizio Rigobon, Francesc Ardolino, Ramon X. RossellĂł, Jordi Coca and my co-authors Pedro Nilsson-FernĂ ndez and Anna Maria Moreno-Bedmar (who invited me, for which I’m very thankful). This may be a common situation for other researchers but, as a non-native specialist in English Studies I always have the impression that the inner circles of each area I’m interested in happen elsewhere, and this is the first time when I find myself not only part of a circle but in the presence of most of its members.

Beautiful as the meeting on Pedrolo was, it was also further proof that, generally speaking, textuality is overwhelming conversation by which I mean that, because the paper presentations were so many and so long, we had hardly time to debate the issues we had ourselves raised. This is always frustrating to me, to the point that once I considered with a friend the possibility of having a one-day conference organized on the basis of speed-dating, with academics actually talking to each other for a few minutes at least and reading the papers either before or after the event. The way we do things now, interaction happens too seldom and too hurriedly, which means that what we produce in writing is not as advanced as it might be.

Sometimes you need someone from outside to realize that things are far from ideal. A non-academic friend who attended the presentation of Explorant Mecanoscrit del segon origen was very much surprised to see that some of my co-authors were meeting then for the first time. He had assumed that a collective book springs from a series of previous conversations in which we draw a plan for the volume, then divide the tasks and next spend time debating each point in our corresponding papers. I explained that actually we tend not to read each other’s work when we participate in a collective volume until this is published (at least, I always do that), and he was flabbergasted. In a way, so am I but, then, as I have just pointed out, not even seminars have room for debate.

I’m not the only one to be calling for a slowing down of academic life, of course, but the particular bee in my bonnet is, I insist, conversation. In our frenzy to produce texts than count as research, we have forgotten how to communicate with each other–we read and quote each other, but this is not real conversation. It might even be a sign of profound loneliness. In my days as a naïve undergrad I imagined that joining academia would mean enjoying whole afternoons of intelligent conversation once morning lectures were over, but this has never happened. I really believe in the traditional institution of the common room, but instead what we get is each researcher in their office answering e-mails. If we stop to talk, this happens mostly in the corridor, as we rush from office to classroom (or bathroom!). Conversation has the bad reputation of being idle chat, when it might solve the problem of how to slow down hectic academic life and produce less but better research. (And here I am, writing to whoever is reading me instead of discussing books with my ultra-busy Department colleagues
).

So, to sum up my sketchy argument today–easy access to what others write thousands of miles away is a miracle in comparison to my days as a pre-internet PhD candidate, yet digitalization and the very growth of English Studies has also generated the burden of colossal works cited lists. Experiences like the recent Pedrolo seminar show me that, sometimes, small is much better than big but also that textuality carries too much weight in comparison to conversation. If only we could re-learn the almost lost art of conversation, academic life would slow down and we could produce better research. Less prolific, of course, but deeper. (But, then, would quoting from live personal communication in papers be valid?).

I wonder which Departments still have common rooms and whether they’re ever used for truly meaningful academic conversation. Or has this never happened?

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

ON PATRIARCHY AND CATALAN INDEPENDENCE

I have been trying to avoid the thorny subject of Catalan independence here but the recent hullaballoo caused by the (supposed) misreading of AgustĂ­ Colominas’ words on a television interview last 17 October might be useful to offer an alternative, gendered interpretation of the self-styled ‘procĂ©s’.

My personal political opinion is simple enough: Catalan independence should be won in a legal referendum with at least 75% to 80% support for–as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya has recently acknowledged and former Generalitat President Artur Mas also acknowledged–you cannot start a new state with only half the citizens’ support. You risk in this way a terrible split, at worst a civil war (though I doubt this would happen here). The Catalan conflict is not really a matter of Spain versus Catalonia but of how the independentists are trying to rush the political process without a convincing discourse that entices hostile, reluctant or even just indifferent people to their cause. Argue your case with solid ideas, explain how a Catalan Republic would be much better than any top-of-the-world Scandinavian country and then let’s vote. Legally, with UN and EU backing, if not with that of Spain, for who could stop a unified population absolutely convinced of what they want (which is not the case now)?

Colominas’ unfortunate words raised the issue of violence, which had been so far more or less suppressed. I mean mortal violence–much has been said, of course, about the brutal, intolerable use of police repression on October 1st 2017. Allow me to explain that Agustí Colominas is a historian and political theorist attached as major ideologist to Carles Puigdemont’s Crida Nacional, soon to become a formal political party. This is why his words carry so much weight. Speaking on La Xarxa, Colominas was trying to celebrate the fact that Catalan independentism has chosen a pacifist strategy. However, the way he defended this argument was most awkward (or a Freudian slip
): ‘There were a number of naïve steps. No doubt. Above all, if you try to carry out this very Catalan experiment of trying to get independence without a single death’. He was asked whether people should die for an idea and he replied that ‘so far, in all independences in the world people have died. In ours we have decided we don’t want that. If you make that decision, then it takes longer. The process is far longer’.

Unsurprisingly, his ambiguous wording was interpreted as evidence that Colominas was asking for human life to be sacrificed if necessary for the sake of Catalan independence. The reactions on Twitter and other media were furious, including that of Esquerra’s notorious member of Parliament, Gabriel RufiĂĄn. Not too elegantly, Colomina twitted back: ‘You can see that Gabriel RufiĂĄn possibly does not understand Catalan. I’ll translate [into Spanish Castilian] and simplify: “the Catalan process does not want any dead and this why it will take longer to accomplish our aim”’ (“el procĂ©s catalĂ  no desitja morts i per aixĂČ portarĂ  mĂ©s temps aconseguir l’objectiu”). Fair enough and happy to read so.

Now, here’s a nasty surprise–last 24 August, Stanford University professor Joan Ramon Resina (director of the Iberian Studies Programme) suggested in an interview published by VilaWeb that sacrificing Catalan lives could have helped defend the Republic, declared on 27 October but quickly suppressed for lack of internal and external support. Acknowledging that he is speaking from a position of complete safety (he lives in California), Resina describes a terrifying scenario, imagining that the Catalan Parliament could have been stormed and the Spanish State would have used then extreme violence, leading to fatalities. The cost of the “collateral victims” (his own quotation marks) ‘would have been too high for the European institutions’ and, presumably, independence would have followed. Next, he adds: ‘I have trouble understanding those who say that a people’s freedom is not worth a single victim. Great causes have never been won with anaesthesia. Why should freedom be cheaper in Catalonia than in other places?’ (https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/joan-ramon-resina-entrevista-tardor-republicana/).

Here’s the answer: because Catalonia–like all civilized nations–should aspire to being a dignified post-patriarchal nation that respects human rights and lives, and not another patriarchal national aberration, full of pointless violence and bloodshed. Resina’s suggestion that the death of some individuals hypothetically murdered by Spanish police, or troops, could be a desirable event in our history is disgusting, despicable, atrocious and, above all, deeply anti-Catalan. Even Colominas understands that.

I have always wanted to write a book about the gender issues connecting the quadrangle formed by the Basque Country and Catalonia, plus Ireland and Scotland. I won’t do that because I’m too busy dismantling patriarchy in other projects (I’m currently writing about villainy) and, so, I’ll use this post as a sort of summary of my project. I’ll insist here on the central point of my theorization: patriarchy is not masculinity–as we can see, many men reacted in horror after (mis)interpreting Colominas’ words as a call to take up arms and sacrifice life for a political ideal. Theirs is what I would call an anti-patriarchal position, one that defends argumentation and a pacific, legal struggle rather than revolution–for this is 2018, not 1789 or 1917, and we know how bloody revolutions end. So this is what my imaginary book would discuss. Please, bear with me.

If you notice, what characterizes the case of Ireland and the Basque Country is that both had terrorist movements presenting themselves as political organizations for the defence of the homeland (following the chivalric scenario of the knights saving the damsel in distress). Fernando Aramburu’s excellent novel Patria (2016)–now filmed as an HBO series–has done a very good job of dissecting the absurdity of E.T.A., which left in its gory wake 800 dead and hundreds of casualties, in a mad bid to attain the independence of the Basque Country. Today, the independentist option is peacefully represented by legal party Euskal Herria Bildu and growing, following the non-violent Catalan process.

Likewise, the I.R.A. (in its different incarnations and factions) killed hundreds and maimed hundreds more, before surrendering to plain reality and accepting that the Republic of Ireland and British Northern Ireland could not be unified by force. Brexit will perhaps manage the deed, probably with a good share of personal suffering but, hopefully, no loss of limb or life. A woman too often neglected, Mo Mowland, was behind the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998, which brought much needed common sense and placed Sinn Feinn firmly within Northern Irish legality. Of course, another woman, Margaret Thatcher, was responsible for responding to terrorist patriarchal violence with even more patriarchal violence, coming from the state. But, then, this reinforces my notion that patriarchy is not masculinity but a way of organizing society and personal life through fear and violence.

My thesis is that in Ireland and in the Basque Country the independentist, national political struggle was coloured by gender values attached to classic patriarchal masculinity: glory, honour, duty. This is both the basis of militarism and of terrorism, which is why it is sometimes so hard to distinguish heroes from villains (what was Napoleon?). You are probably thinking that women were also part of E.T.A. and I.R.A. and that some are today ISIS supporters. The matter of the poor sex slaves, represented by the new Nobel Prize winner for Peace, Nadia Murad, should make it obvious to you that ISIS is an extremely patriarchal terrorist organization–far beyond any patriarchal European ideology and criminal band. At the same time, you should begin to see that all violence is based on the typical sense of patriarchal entitlement: I kill (or try to kill) you because I personally decide that your life matters less than my struggle, even though by using violence I undermine the justification for my own fight and cause state violence to grow accordingly.

Now, Scotland and Catalonia also had their own patriarchal terrorist movements–but they were small. Scottish author Ian Rankin refers in his novels to the 1950s/1970s proto-terrorist Sword and Shield, but this appears to be his own invention (is it?). The Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA), a.k.a. the Tartan Terrorists, was formed in 1979–after the failed referendum for devolution–by one Adam Busby jr., a convicted terrorist since 2010. Mr. Busby preferred letter bombs and even parcel bombs–in the style of the infamous Unabomber–but does not seem to have caused major human harm. In Catalonia, Terra Lliure, formed in 1978, went much further than SNLA, injuring many in a series of similarly misguided attacks and even killing a poor woman before its dissolution in 1995.

I’m not making the idiotic point that Scottish and Catalan terrorism was less effective (if that is a word that should ever be used in this context) than Irish and Basque terrorism because it lacked committed enough ‘warriors’. The point I’m raising is that both Scotland and Catalonia were and are societies uninterested in political violence of any kind, including terrorism, because the classic patriarchal values are less appealing there and here. The counterargument I give myself is that the British Army (Scottish soldiers were always a mainstay of the Empire) and gang-related street violence, an endemic problem, have absorbed much patriarchal violence in Scotland. Yet, the fact is that the recent referendum and its aftermath have not generated any violent incidents. Catalan nationalists tend to claim that being subordinated to Spain has resulted in a constant need to negotiate and this is why violent confrontation is not part of our society–or the other way round: being mainly a trading nation, we understand the advantages of negotiation.

Let me recap: nations with a deeper patriarchal foundation may be tempted by terrorism and, generally, political violence leading to revolution, whereas nations with a shallower patriarchy (there is no nation with a wholly alternative social arrangement) abhor political violence and will not sacrifice human lives for ideas. The two World Wars, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq, the Balkans War and Syria today have done much to erode the appeal of the glory/duty/honour triad based on bloodshed. Neither in Scotland nor in Catalonia has the craving for independence resulted in personal clashes, or rioting of any kind–though the image of the Catalan police almost losing the national Parliament last 1 October to a horde of violent protesters is certainly worrying.

Now, here’s a problem. Few of the Catalan men and women that were scandalized and appalled by Colominas’ words in the basic, immediate interpretation–and I hope they were 99%, though there are always lost souls–were aware that their reaction was anti-patriarchal, for the simple reason that we are generally ignorant of how patriarchy operates. Patriarchy is not, as radical feminism assumed in the 1970s, a terrorist system established to intimidate women into submission. It is certainly that but also, more generally, a social system based on using violence, against both men and women, to impose its own views.

In Resina’s ugly vision, the Spanish Other is the violent patriarch and the dead would have been part of the gendered discourse of Catalonia as a victimized nation. Yet, this is not good at all: what Resina presents is the case of an abused wife who welcomes her husband’s murdering one of their children because its death will free her
 You can see this leads nowhere. A truly anti-patriarchal nation does not put its hopes into the acts of bullies or into male messianic leaders but into the ability of its male and female citizens to renew the jaded, 19th century scenario of national liberation. What is needed is a new approach based on a collective capacity to re-imagine the community as a forward-looking project (not a vague, dreamy utopia). For that, it is important that the men, above all, continue eschewing all violence and embrace an alternative way of being a (Catalan) man.

They are not doing so badly
 I only know of one book about Catalan masculinity, the collective volume edited by Josep-Anton FernĂ ndez and AdriĂ  Chavarria Calçasses, gallines i maricons: Homes contra la masculinitat hegemĂČnica (2004). That wimps, chickens and faggots appear in the title as terms of pride rather than opprobrium says a lot about how unafraid Catalan men are of resisting hegemonic masculinity. Perhaps the strong reaction against Colominas’ words, whatever he intended them to mean, shows that we are now ready to make anti-patriarchal policies absolutely central in our society. My suggestion is that this might be the way to build something truly new, even post-national, to replace the worn-out patriarchal stories we have been hearing for the last two centuries. Just an idea. Scotland, now headed by a woman First Minister, is continuing its non-violent path, as it educates its young men into abandoning street violence. And happily, in Ireland and the Basque Country peace continues.

Some days, I find there is hope for the world. Can we, please, set an example?

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

READING LIVES: BIOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH (AND VD)


Back in 1994 I met one of the most delicious persons I have ever met in my life–it is very, very hard to encapsulate in just one adjective the vivacity, cheerfulness, zest for life that Prof. Lois Rudnick transmits with her presence. Now emeritus, Lois was that academic year a Fulbright visitor from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. She spent that time teaching in my Department (also in the English Dept. at the Universitat de Barcelona). Lois gave me personally many wonderful moments to remember for ever, from our seeing together Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (Prof. Rudnick is Jewish) to teaching me why contemporary dance is more thrilling than classical ballet (it’s about the freedom to create new moves, as pioneering US dancer Isadora Duncan demonstrated her whole life).

Prof. Rudnick’s academic career has been focused mainly on researching the life of literary and artistic hostess Mabel Dodge Luhan. Several of the many biographical books she has devoted to Luhan are available from Amazon.com, if you’re curious. I must say that, before meeting Lois, I had never heard of Luhan (1879-1962), a wealthy socialite from Buffalo (New York) particularly known for having chosen Taos, in New Mexico, as her home and having attracted there a long list of artists of all descriptions from 1917 onward. D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe are usually mentioned among her guests, but the list is far, far longer. Incidentally, her beautiful Taos home is now a bed-and-breakfast establishment–though she hated tourists. Luhan, nĂ©e Ganson, went though four marriages that gave her not only a long list of surnames to choose from but also a troubled private and public life. Her last husband, Tony Lujan (notice the different spelling) was a handsome Pueblo Indian (today native American
) whom she married in 1923, at a historical period when very few interracial unions of this exceptional kind were celebrated at all. They stayed married for almost 40 years.

Lois Rudnick’s latest book on Luhan is The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Psychoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture (2012). This is actually an edition of a number of autobiographical texts which Luhan did not include in her groundbreaking autobiographical tetralogy, Intimate Memoirs (1933-37), which she started writing at 45. In this 1600-page long, poignant text Luhan gave a candid account not only of her network of celebrity friends and acquaintances but also of her own personal life, with a sincerity that is to be praised. This woman was born in an American Victorian home but her life ended the year before second-wave feminism erupted with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. In these 83 years she had to learn, at a great personal cost, how to break the tight rules she had been handed down as a girl while she and the rest of the international Modernist coterie(s) re-invented love, sexuality and identity. Not an easy task.

The ‘suppressed memoirs’ that Prof. Rudkin could not access before 2000 (there was an injunction placed by author’s son, if I understand correctly, against their publication) deal specifically with the episodes in Luhan’s life connected with sex, and more particularly with how the transmission of VD negatively affected her marriages and her many affairs. Indeed, the volume even contains a nicely-packed condom–a clever reminder that VD is still rampant, despite all we (supposedly) know about gonorrhoea, syphilis and the rest. Also, a reminder that (though also transmitted in other ways than VD) HIV and syphilis connect distant periods of heterosexuality in ways we hardly pay attention to.

The paradox in Luhan’s life is that of her four husbands, three suffered from syphilis and, although she did all she could to avoid catching the feared disease (except, it seems, using condoms, for she wanted children) ultimately Tony’s infidelity was the reason why Mabel was infected and their idyll radically transformed. I am very much reluctant to reading biographical material and I have a very prudish Victorian horror of intruding into the sex lives of persons who have not entrusted their confidence to me. Fiction is fine but real-life events are not so fine. You may imagine how befuddled I felt reading the passage in which Luhan describes that she knew simultaneously that her husband Tony was a) unfaithful and b) infected with syphilis, when she noticed the stain of bloodied semen on the otherwise pristine white sheet he used to wrap his body in.

I get Lois’ point: Luhan gives unique evidence of how the Modernist sexual liberation of the 1910s-1930s was accompanied by the dark shadow of VD, so why not explore it? We do know that Victorian women (and their babies) were often the innocent victims of their husbands’ secret lives but we have little information about how women of Luhan’s generation coped with the reality of VD, once first-wave feminism introduced a certain measure of female sexual liberation. Fiction could not go very far: D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published in 1929 (privately and in Italy) was the object of an obscenity trial in 1960 and could only be published in the UK after that date. And there’s no mention of VD in it despite its frank sexuality! So, yes, I value and understand Luhan’s painful, brave testimonial. Still, I’m somehow sorry that I need to intrude into the privacy of her bedroom to grasp a truth everyone in her time seemed to be hiding. I must thank Lois Rudnick, then, for bringing that truth to us while I wonder whether that is the only way to raise awareness. Possibly.

Having got that off my chest that, I have other issues to raise. You can, by the way, listen to Prof. Rudnick herself discuss her book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibTHhgQ74ew. One of these issues is that, obviously, only educated, upper-class women like Luhan were articulate enough to offer an insightful portrait of private life (and even so, she mostly wrote her texts for the psychologists and psychiatrists treating her all her life). The anger and disappointment with which she receives evidence of infection (and hence, of betrayal) must have also been part of the life of less privileged women but, then, we will never have their testimonial. They’re just statistics, if at all.

Another issue is that, from what I gather, early 20th century women who, like Mabel, appeared to be liberated and even had a notorious reputation as men-eaters, did not really find much satisfaction in sex, which was not even the main point in their search for romance. Reading Luhan’s account of the affair she had with Dr. John Parmenter during her first marriage, it seems that she fell in love above all with a certain patriarchal ideal of protective masculinity, paradoxical as this may sound. The pain which she felt when this idealized man turned out to be incapable of abandoning a wife he didn’t love seems to come directly from the Romantic period rather than the 1910s. This is Jane Austen with sex and not the post-second feminist wave accounts of bedroom misencounters we are used to now.

In fact, and this is what kept me reading–apart from Prof. Rudnick’s manifest passion for her subject–the suppressed memoirs function as a chronicle of a lost struggle against infidelity. Decades into their marriage, and even though Mabel knows that Tony has had liaisons with other women, she feels again a deep Romantic pain caused by the budding relationship between her husband and a younger woman, Millicent Rogers. A celebrity in the circles of fashion and art, Rogers moved from Hollywood to Taos in 1947 intent on imitating the much admired Luhan, to the point of also obsessing with Tony. Luhan never acknowledges that she is in the same position as Dr. Parmenter’s wife back in the first of the suppressed memoirs, either because she is mortified by the comparison or because she cannot see the parallelism. I don’t mean that infidelity necessarily leads eventually to some kind of retribution but, rather, that Luhan must be one of the first modern women to describe how monogamy and sexual liberation clash–a situation we are very far from having solved.

Thus, the most painful memory Luhan narrates is not her chagrin at realizing that, despite her caution, she has syphilis but her realization that she can do nothing to stop Tony from loving this Rogers woman, the upstart whom Mabel so hates. Much more so because unlike Dr. Parmenter, who acts as a cowardly child with both wife and mistress, Tony assumes with all the serenity he can muster that he loves Mabel but also Millicent (she eventually left him for his nephew, Benito). Encountering that type of deep Romantic pain in a book about venereal disease gives Lois Rudnick’s exploration of American Modernism a strange twist, for my impression is that in current discussions of sexuality love (which is what Mabel feels) occupies in the end little room. I may be ranting and raving at my worst today but, beyond the clichĂ©s of romance, is there any serious current attempt at considering love? Don’t we talk too much about sexuality, too little about feeling? And how come I notice this void in a book about syphilis?

There is also a subtle subtext in The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan which has do to with race and class. As a rich, white, female intruder in the Pueblo community Luhan is not particularly well-liked; her affair with Tony, which begins when both are still married, is less than welcome and she even more or less acknowledges that her money bought this Pueblo man just as she purchased Taos land. Eventually, Mabel convinces the Pueblo Indians indirectly through Tony (by then her husband) and, if I recall correctly, the intervention of John Collier–later Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in President Roosevelt’s administration–to test the adult community members for syphilis. Among those who refuse to be tested is the husband of Tony’s mistress, the woman who passes syphilis onto him. If you add two and two, Rudnick is hinting at a plot of revenge aimed at putting the Yankee interloper in her place. The impulse to do biographical research exposes, thus, patterns in History we might never be aware of.

I recall conversations with Lois, worried already in 1994-5, before the internet really exploded, about what would happen with documentation in the future and how biographers would work. Funnily, if Luhan were alive today, she would most likely be an influencer with a heavily documented life in the social networks. And/or perhaps one of those novelists that write narcissistic auto-fiction, though I wonder whether there is a single grain of truth in the sub-genre. As for the truth we get from Luhan’s ‘suppressed memoirs’ (and ‘suppressed’ here means both unpublished and self-censored), it is necessarily biased towards a zeitgeist obsessed with sex and very much reluctant to consider love–and the models we follow in our lives. At one point Mabel throws a tantrum at her husband, she writes, not so much because she is uncontrollably angry but because she intends to seduce her man back into her arms as the heroines of romance do. Impassive, Tony responds coolly ‘You’re tearing my trousers’ and the whole edifice of romantic seduction comes crashing down. At least, Mabel knows which model is failing her. As for us, how do we love (or fail to love)? I wonder.

By the way, you might be surprised to know that in the USA, ‘During 2017, there were 101,567 reported new diagnoses of syphilis (all stages), compared to 39,782 estimated new diagnoses of HIV infection in 2016 and 555,608 cases of gonorrhoea in 2017’, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis-detailed.htm). Just in case you thought syphilis was a thing of the distant Victorian past and not of post-modern sexuality.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

Romanticism: Doubts and Queries


Next semester I will be teaching again English Romantic Literature after a long lapse, spent teaching mainly Victorian Literature. I last taught Romanticism in the academic year 2004-5, which is really a long time ago–even though the 21st century produces this strange effect of making all yearly dates beginning with 20 seem just yesterday. Although to the layperson it might seem that the literary periods of the past stay static, the fact is that they are in constant turmoil because of expanding research. What Romanticism was back in 1988, when Prof. Guillermina Cenoz so beautifully taught it to my second-year undergrad class, is not the same Romanticism I taught in 2004. 14 years later, in 2018, Romanticism is, once more, quite a different construction. Or is it?

The way to gauge the changes in how a particular literary period is apprehended is to read the introductions aimed at students. In my undergrad years I learned Romanticism from the Norton Anthology of English Literature (volume 2) and the truly splendid New Pelican Guide to English Literature, edited by Boris Ford. The nine volumes are still in my office and I marvel at how dense they are–Ford and his collaborators assumed that undergrads were sophisticated readers, willing and happy to study what amounts to an extraordinarily long text. The last volume, if I am correct, was published in 1995 and put an end to a classic style of presenting information to students, before the emergence of theory seeped down to more basic levels and before identity politics wreaked havoc on the canon (or tried to). I’m not being nostalgic but just making a note of how academic fashions come and go.

We have been using as background reading for our second-year ‘Victorian Literature’ course Maureen Moran’s guide, simply called Victorian Literature and Culture (Continuum, 2007). When I write ‘using’ I mean that students are expected to read it in the first month and then pass a quiz. I must confess that my colleagues and I had great fun preparing the multiple choice questions, particularly the nonsensical option that should be discarded first (but that each year a handful of students do choose
). I have read, then, Sharon Ruston’s introduction in the same series, called Romanticism, to consider whether we could use it in a similar way. I have enjoyed it very much but there are a number of issues that worry me and that I would like to address here. One is the very construction of the books called introductions and the other is the resilience of the canon.

I have already written here two posts about the sub-genre of the introduction. One in 2011, on British theatre (http://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/2011/03/09/like-a-crowded-party-reading-introductions-to-british-theatre/); the other just last year, 2017, about Scottish Literature (http://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/2017/07/03/trying-to-catch-up-a-book-on-recent-scottish-literature/). I may be repeating, then, some of the arguments, though this topic always takes a slightly different angle depending on the material. Thus, last September 27, I attended the presentation of the volume edited by Teresa LĂłpez-Pellisa, Historia de la ciencia ficciĂłn en la cultura española at Llibreria Gigamesh and you can see that the presenter, Prof. Miquel BarcelĂł, spent a good deal of his talk wondering how such a dense volume should be read (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzgkedREkjg). I myself intervened to question whether a book is the ideal vehicle for an introduction, guide, or history but seeing Teresa’s concerned face (her publisher was in the room
) I quickly changed subject.

Historia
 is very different from Ruston’s Romanticism yet they present similar problems because these are books that need to be studied, not just read. Miquel Barceló referred to Teresa’s excellent volume as a ‘reference book’ but this is not really what it is. His own Ciencia ficción: Nueva guía de lectura (the 2015 new edition based on his 1990 classic) is, for me, a reference book: you can read it from end to end or just dip into it for specific information. Of course, this is what he meant in relation to the 14 chapters in Historia
 but even if you take each chapter separately, you still need paper and pen to make notes or, as I did, keep your tablet close by to check whatever you need to check. And here’s a problem (also with Ruston’s Romanticism): when I read books that survey a literary field, I need to see pictures as a memory aid–of authors, book covers, places, arts, you name it
 Whether this is a thick 500+ page book (like Historia
.) or a slim 150-page volume like Ruston’s, a survey which offers no illustrations is beginning to be problematic for me as a reader of the internet age. Imagine what the digital natives seating in our classrooms must think of so much print


I’ll leave the ambitious Historia de la ciencia ficciĂłn en la cultura española aside to focus on the introductions to literary periods for undergrads to claim that they should be offered, ideally, as hypertextual online resources most attractive to navigate. Now, the problem with the available resources (at least the ones I know of) is that either they are too basic, or too sprawling. Also, excuse me, antiquated. Look, for instance, at the very well-known Victorian Web. If you read the credits page, you will see that, basically the website’s configuration dates back to the mid 1990s. It has been growing magnificently in number of documents and now it offers versions in Spanish and French. But, although it is listed as one of the resources we recommend to our students, I’m very sorry to say that it is not really useful to them–it can even have the negative effect of overwhelming them. It is not my intention to criticize in any way what is, I insist, a wonder of the academic world but to question the inexistence of truly adequate, basic level introductions to literary periods and schools that can be safely recommended to undergrads.

Let’s see if I can explain myself better. Take Ruston’s book, with its four sections: 1. Historical, Cultural and Intellectual Context, 2. Literature in the Romantic Period, 3. Critical Approaches, and 4. Resources for Independent Study (including a chronology, a glossary of key concepts, and a bibliography). This is about 125 pages of text (parts 1, 2 and 3) and about 30 for part 4–a reasonably brief text, of a size that would adapt very well to the website format. The moment I started reading, I could see where the links to other online resources could be placed and where the pictures should be inserted; their absence grew louder as I read on and what appeared to be basic information started thickening into a lovely but very thick broth.

Half-way into the book, I understood what the problem is: Ruston has a marvellous understanding of the Romantic period and an impressive ability to offer a synthesis but she thinks as an expert academic and not as an undergrad student. Her introduction made perfect sense to me–as does Moran’s to the Victorian Age–because I already know what she is writing about and can, thus, enjoy the new twists and turns she has introduced in the canonical story I was handed down back in 1988. But I’m sure that our second year students approaching the Victorian age or Romanticism anew must be mostly baffled.

In Ruston’s volume there is, also, a perceptible tension between what is relevant and irrelevant, which is part of all introductions. Thus, no matter how amazing the Lunar Society (a Midlands scientific league of the most advanced minds of the time) seems to the author, I doubt that our students find the 3.5 pages about it relevant to the study of Wordsworth and company. This tension is, of course, most palpable in Ruston’s attempt to undo the vision of Romanticism as a period dominated by the poetry written by the six male geniuses (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats).

Our syllabus, as you may imagine, is focused on their poems (30% of the course) with the other two thirds devoted to celebrating women’s fiction, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). Reading Ruston, however, I felt positively guilty that we strike such a poor gender balance in the poetry segment; then, at the same time I wondered whether I really want to teach Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Charlotte Smith or Joanna Baillie instead of any of the six men. We might correct this by including in our booklet more poems by women but classroom time is awfully limited as it is. I realize that for others the real sin lies in not teaching Walter Scott’s novels but, again, if we had one year instead of one semester, we might include one of his books. As things are now, neither Mary Shelley nor Jane Austen are replaceable (at least to me).

A problem, then, is that if we really follow the picture that Ruston draws of the Romantic period and we radically alter the syllabus we run the risk of giving our students an impression that would not agree with the standard view. I do realize that we are changing the syllabus all the time: Frankenstein would have seemed an odd choice for the 1988 course I took. At the same time, I doubt very much that students will criticize us for not telling them about Hannah Moore–and the other way round: the experiment last year consisted of including the anti-slavery autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789) to emphasize that the Romantic period was a time of abolitionist agitation. From what I’m told, students failed to be enthusiastic.

In an ideal situation, I would have the 70 students in my Romanticism class produce their own study materials, not in e-book form (as I have done in other courses) but as a small, limited, accessible website. This, I know, is pure madness for it requires an investment of time and digital know-how that I simply lack–and also because, guess what?, the result would not count as a Ministry-approved merit for my CV. A friend told me recently that publishing an introduction in book form has many advantages because this is a kind of text often quoted. I must stress, however, that the Spanish Ministry of Education, or, rather, the ANECA agency, does not rate introductions as valid research. Two friends, each the author of a valued introduction to their fields, have confirmed this point after failing their personal assessment exercise.

We, then, simply need to make do with what we can purchase or check online–which is, besides, produced in the anglophone world with no consideration of whether it is adaptable to other cultures. And hope that this will do for our students.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

DRIFTING APART?: LINGUISTICS, LITERARY STUDIES AND ENGLISH PHILOLOGY


Two weeks ago I gave the inaugural lecture for the four-year BA in English Studies at the Universidad de Murcia. Actually, my lecture was intended to represent the Literature and Culture segment of the degree, and a colleague from the Universidad de Zaragoza, Dr. Iraide Ibarretxe Antuñano, offered a second inaugural lecture on Linguistics. She asked the students present how many had chosen the BA because of an interest in Linguistics and only a few raised their hands. She asked then the rest whether they were interested in Literature but, again, only a few hands were raised. The immense majority, then, had either no particular inclination or had not made their mind up yet. Or were confused–and no wonder!

Now bear with me


Dr. Ibarretxe, though a graduate in English Studies has a Doctorate in Linguistics and works for the ‘Departamento de LingĂŒĂ­stica General e HispĂĄnica’ (not to be confused with ‘FilologĂ­a Española’). This is an interesting name for, as happens, in my university we have no Linguistics Department and, indeed, the Spanish Department–familiarly known as ‘HispĂĄnicas’–is the home not of this language speciality but of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. Linguistics belongs, so to speak, to the Catalan Department–at least, they are the ones in charge of the first-year compulsory course common to all language-based BAs. At the Universitat de Lleida, in contrast, Linguistics belongs to English Studies, and the corresponding unit is the ‘Departament d’AnglĂšs i de LingĂŒĂ­stica’.

Still with me?

Many Departments in Spanish universities which, back in 2009 or thereabouts started offering degrees called ‘English Studies’ (‘Estudios Ingleses’) or similar are, however, still called ‘Departamento de FilologĂ­a Inglesa’. My university has Departments of ‘Filologia Anglesa’, ‘Filologia HispĂ nica’, ‘Filologia Catalana’ and ‘Filologia Francesa i RomĂ nica’ even though the BAs are, apart from the above mentioned ‘English Studies’, ‘Spanish Language and Literature’, ‘Catalan Language and Literature’ and ‘French Studies’. The old degree in ‘Classical Languages’ (‘Filologia ClĂ ssica’) has been integrated into a new BA called ‘CiĂšncies de l’Antiguitat’ (‘Sciences of Antiquity’). This BA mixes classical philology, history and archaeology and is offered by the ‘Departament de CiĂšncies de l’Antiguitat i de l’Edat Mitjana’. At the Universitat de Barcelona, in contrast, they have a ‘Departament de Filologia ClĂ ssica, RomĂ nica i SemĂ­tica’. And English is part of the ‘Departament de LlengĂŒes i Literatures Modernes i d’Estudis Anglesos’–not ‘Filologia’.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, Juliet Capulet once said, trying to convince herself that Romeo Montague’s surname was of no significance. Her argument makes sense for the flower but not for her lover, as we know and she learned tragically, whereas we need to wonder what this confusing nomenclature signifies in relation to what we teach and who we are. I myself identify as a ‘filĂČloga anglesa’ because I have an official document from the Spanish State guaranteeing that I possess degrees (‘Licenciatura’, ‘Doctorado’) in ‘FilologĂ­a Inglesa’ but, even so, I call myself a ‘cultural critic’ rather than a ‘philologist’ (a job description I connect with the analysis and edition of non-contemporary texts). For many in the anglophone world a ‘philologist’ is a sort of historical linguist, so see how confusing things can get.

In the tradition we come from, the study of a language and its Literature within a single degree is justified on the grounds that a language is the expression of a culture and its Literature the highest artistic manifestation in that tongue. Thus, the reasoning goes, if you want to know all about English you’re bound to learn how each anglophone community contributes to the common language and how Literature expresses its most sophisticated uses. This is, however, a very old framework, established back in the early 19th century in Romantic Germany, which is why the two main areas of knowledge under the yoke of ‘philology’ as it is known is Spain are pulling away from each other. In Literature we have been gravitating towards Cultural Studies, and thus expanding the number and variety of texts in English available for study. In Linguistics, though I’m not sure I am using the word correctly, they tend towards a kind of ambitious theorization in which the English language is just one element of the general entity known as language (funny how the difference between ‘idioma’ and ‘lenguaje’ helps in Spanish but is lost in English!). Properly speaking, then, there are very few ‘philologists’ among us, English Studies specialists.

I am actually beginning to realize that, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what our Language and Linguistics colleagues do. What we do in Literature and Culture Studies is far easier to explain for we are classified by geographical area and/or historical period. A course called ‘Scottish 18th century Poetry’ is self-explanatory but what do mysterious labels such as ‘Pragmatics’ or ‘Discourse Analysis’ really mean? Is ‘Historical Linguistics’ the same as ‘History of English’ or is it a more theoretical area? I’m even told that the yearly conference of AEDEAN (AsociaciĂłn Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos) is increasingly seen as a Literature/Culture event, for which there is some evidence (see the programme for CĂłrdoba this year), though not any intentionality. Linguists, I’m told, prefer meeting at the conference of AESLA, the AsosiaciĂłn Española de LingĂŒĂ­stica Aplicada (http://www.aesla.org.es/es), at least those inclined, logically, towards the applied aspects of Linguistics. This association, needless to say, goes far beyond English and you might well be a specialist in Mandarin Chinese and join it (after all, it’s about Linguistics not languages). In the same vein, ASETEL, the AsociaciĂłn Española de TeorĂ­a de la Literatura, welcomes all kinds of specialists but I don’t think it has much weight within English Studies.

The centrifugal forces at work means that in some universities like Seville there are two separate Departments called ‘Filología Inglesa’, one for ‘UK and US Literature’ and one for ‘English Language’. I know that other universities have considered this structure but splitting Departments goes now against the crazy fashion for grouping as many of them together as possible (for basic financial reasons). In my own Department, we have asked several times to be considered at least separate units, in the same way our colleagues in ‘Filologia Alemanya’ are a different section. However, the UAB tells us that as far as they’re concerned we are a single body, which affects negatively our chronically under-staffed Literature/Culture section. If you think about it, an interesting solution might be the reshuffling of the language and Literature Departments into two macro-units: a Department of Language and Linguistics and a Department of  Literature and Culture, but I can hear the groans already as a I write this. There is a sort of conviction, odd as this may sound, that each Department’s culture depends very much on the language named in our degrees and that, essentially, we  in English Studies are a sort of ‘foreign body’ in habits and methods wherever we can be found. At least, I always have that impression.

Now think what it is like for a newly arrived students, like the ones I addressed a while ago in Murcia. They have most likely chosen English Studies with a vague idea that they like this particular language (this is the same all over Spain) and with very little actual knowledge of what the degree really means, much less of its tradition, and even of the meaning of ‘filología’. Then, on the first day, they are given two examples of research in the field which could not be more different and unorthodox: Dr. Ibarretxe’s invitation to consider the whole field of human language, not just English, and my own invitation to shatter the literary canon and bring even television series and videogames into their BA. If any of them originally registered to, say, study Shakespeare and learn English grammar, they must be wondering what hit them
 And what hit them is, precisely, what I’m trying to pin down: the centrifugal forces of our study area.

At this point it is also necessary to raise the matter of how current ideas about science are also having an often unacknowledged impact in our midst. I have no doubt that Linguists are scientists and consider themselves so because they use method that can only be called scientific: data gathering, running experiments, and so on. Curiously, every time I tell a linguist that I’m not a scientist but a critic, s/he usually responds that I’m certainly a scientist, too, because I use a method. I do use a scholarly method of study, research and argumentation, which I also teach my students how to apply, and that is certainly based on gathering data (textual evidence from primary sources, ideas from secondary sources). I think, however, that there is an important difference: I don’t use labs, nor run experiments as scientists do and, above all, I celebrate full subjectivity, which is not welcome in science. I’m actually far more comfortable with the German concept of Wissenshaft,  which is practically impossible to translate but that I translate in my own style as ‘the cultivation of wisdom’, surely twisting the original word to suit my own ends. If you get the idea, I feel conceptually closer to Philosophy than to Linguistics and this a peculiar thought coming from a ‘philologist’.

Any kind of re-arrangement affecting knowledge as produced and transmitted by (Spanish) universities is costly and cumbersome. The school I work for is called ‘School of Philosophy and Letters’ which may have made sense back in 1968 when it was founded but is a really eccentric name today: Why is Philosophy foregrounded? What is the meaning of ‘Letters’, except a reminder that we have lost ‘Belle-lettres’ to the passage of time? When I asked whether we could possibly be renamed ‘School of Humanities’ I was reminded that many colleagues would possibly prefer ‘Human Sciences’ and that, anyway, the current name is convenient enough. As, I should add, ‘Departament de Filologia Anglesa’ is convenient enough but, then, no longer descriptive. Or, I think, accurate.

Perhaps, in the end, I just feel a bit envious that the language colleagues can call themselves ‘linguists’ and be done with the problem of what a ‘philologist’ should be called today. Those of us in Literature and Culture are not faring that well for if you call yourself a ‘literary critic’ people will think you’re a reviewer and I don’t think I know anyone calling themselves ‘literary theorist’ with the confidence others use the word ‘linguist’. Maybe I should give ‘literary scientist’ a chance
 and, yes, I’m kidding.  

And to the students in Murcia, and any other first-year students in language and Literature degrees: remember that scientists were once called ‘natural philosophers’ and don’t forget that we used to train you as ‘filólogos’. Yes, lovers of language in all its extension


I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/