The 18th Century as literary hinge

When I “discovered” 18th Century Spanish literature, something that really struck me was what a critical element it was in the history of literature and how little credit it gets. The 18th Century is a literary hinge in the evolution of literature. While it can be argued that every century, or era, is a “hinge” era, a time between times, the 18th Century exercises as a flexing point in what has been called the pendulum of literary movements. Being the philistine that I am, I can only use Spanish literature for my example:

The ilustrados (18th C educated Spaniards), whether they liked it or not, were actually building on the shoulders of the Baroque, with its chiaroscuro and trompe l’oeil, which they hated. This, in turn, was a reaction to the Renaissance which was short lived in Spain in favor of the more mysterious and why not, fun, Baroque, more suited to the Spanish temperament (perpetuating stereotypes, the Spanish are a Baroque people. Disagree? Go watch an Almodovar film). For the Spanish literati, the solution to what they considered centuries of muddle was to build a one way bridge to the classic ancient Greeks and Romans as Luzán proposed in his Poética (1737). As much as the Enlightened writers wanted to, they could not get there without the rich legacy of medieval letters and art and everything that followed. For example, my man, Padre Isla (1703-1781), a precursor to the ilustrados, indeed goes back to the ancients, but he also relies heavily on St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, and especially Cervantes and Quevedo, creating his narrative from a blend of centuries of letters. Consciously or not these are the foundations the 18th Century had to build on.

On the other hand the Enlightenment’s obsession with societal good which even led to the elimination of the novel in Spain due to its reliance on the first person singular, is the launching pad for the Romantic movement where that “I” is all important. Equally, the Enlightened enthusiasm for scientific enumeration led to the naturalists. The reaction to those developments will be realism, modernism and postmodernism.

In big bold brushstrokes there are the Classics, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras leading up to the Enlightenment, and the Romantic, Naturalist, Realist, Modernist and Postmodernism after it. How do I then explain the fact that my sides, arms or rays of my angle are lopsided? Well it must be taken into account that both the Classical and Medieval periods encompass centuries, while the last big three movements occurred within the 20th C. due to the advances in communications and technology, so just counting movements is not the same as considering the influence and repercussion of  those movements. This of course is taking into account all the differences in labeling periods and movements. No style is 100% unique, as one genre blends into another.

Thus, a solid grasp of 18th Century literature opens up an understanding to what happened before and after on the literary continuum. From a teaching standpoint, understanding the enlightenment offers the key to the past as well as to the future of literary history.

P.S.: When I explained this idea to my thesis director during one of our coffees, she liked it so much she took a picture!

Three years down, one to go (hopefully)

Within the last month I finished my third year of my PhD studies and Chapter 2 of my dissertation, so I finally got to updating my poor abandoned blog, only to have the Greek internet swallow the blog post I have been writing for the last 10 days (more on that later), as if it were a multi-billion Euro loan from the European Central Bank. So, back to the old drawing board.

My sixth semester has been very intense. All semesters are intense, but in different ways. This was my first semester dedicated 100% to writing my dissertation and it was a new dynamic for me. I find writing, especially in the academic style very difficult, every sentence is a challenge, and then it gets corrected by my director and sent back for retooling. So it feels like one step forward two steps back. But eventually every page gets cleared after a few drafts, so it is very rewarding to make progress.

My volunteering has also been very exciting. The volunteer coordinator at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill asked me to participate in their Annual fundraising gala, this year the theme was Disney’s Aladdin… and I was Jafar! They were nice enough to let me keep the costume so I re-used it for the Romance Studies end of the year party, which this year was themed as “Happily ever after” i.e. your favorite storybook character.

Other highlights of the year to which I will dedicate blog posts were:

Being a Graduate Research Consultant for my Thesis Director’s undergraduate literature class.

A plethora of cultural events: music, ballet, theater…

The French Department had me teach French for High Beginners. It was a challenge but also great fun.

I was the Department’s soccer coordinator for the year, or as I re-worked it: The Romance Studies Sports and Wellness Coordinator.

This Spring I presented at a conference at the University of Maryland and at our own home grown Carolina Conference on Romance Studies.

All this and more will be coming your way soon, so stay tuned!!!…

Why a Ph.D.? (Revisited)

After the first year of my doctorate program, and with a couple of weeks of distance to reflect and let it all sink in, it is time to come up with some road markers, some conclusions:

The program is everything I was expecting for and much, much more.

I have learnt so much, I have “discovered” Medieval and 18th C. Spanish Lit. – where have I been hiding for my whole life? Part of the secret to my discovery has been having Profs. Domínguez, and Gómez-Castellano as my teachers. They are the real deal: knowledgeable, patient, encouraging, understanding, I could not have wished for better role models.

My colleagues are also top, top shelf, both in the Masters and Ph.D. programs, in Spanish French and Italian: Sam, Ruben, Thomas, Anne, Emily, Miguel, Zully, Andrew, Rob, Sarah, Drew, Massi, K-N, Martina, Gloria, et cetera, et cetera.

The other side of the coin, my teaching experience has also been out of sight. I have taught three fantastic classes of Intermediate level Spanish language, 203. I have been very impressed with my students, a great, diverse, fun, brilliant mix. It has been a thrill teaching – even at 8:00 am. We had great discussions, games, learning moments, fun and end of the term breakfasts at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, where the students ordered their breakfasts in Spanish!

Beyond the in-house academic powerhouses, I have met people I never expected to meet: David Gies – Jedi Master of 18th Century Spanish Lit. (UVA) and Ana Rueda, the grande dame of 18th Century Spanish Lit. (UK) (who I even had the chance to pick up at the airport and have a drink before a lecture!). I also met novelist and journalist Rosa Montero and Spanish choreographer and ex-dancer Nacho Duato, not bad for a village. And speaking of dance, I saw The Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham and Marie Chouinard dance companies, the Monteverdi and Cleveland Orchestras, heard Verdi’s Aida, and over a dozen different takes on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, et cetera, et cetera.

Yes, the first semester was mayhem, and yes the last week of the Spring semester was Hell, but all in all,Magnolias Ale and Ruben Sunrise going to class Sunrise going to class a very positive experience.

Year one Ph.D.: Check

Well, that wraps up the first year of my Ph.D. program and of my course work. Now I “only” have to read until my eyes bleed for my exams next Spring. This semester was overall much better than the Winter term. I took three courses: Early Modern Spanish Women Writers, with Rosa Perelmuter – a luminary in the field, and an Independent Study on Medieval Narratives with the iconic Prof. Domínguez. For my third course I took 18th Century Spanish Lit. with Irene Gómez-Castellano – and it has changed my life. Not only did I learn about the Enlightenment (something that had been in the back of my mind since I read Voltaire’s Candide at the American School in London, and then reread often) and the Romantics, but I discovered Padre Isla, a fairly unknown Jesuit writer who wrote the “best seller” of the 18th Century: Fray Gerundio de Campazas. I also taught two sections of Spanish 203, an intermediate level class. I loved it! I had great kids and we had a great time, including the cockroach that climbed up a girl’s dress. Pobre Raquel!
The end of the term was extremely stressful. One is normally 100% occupied with schoolwork during the year, so having to take two exams, write three twenty page essays, give and correct about forty exams, plus all the end of the year wrap up stuff was beyond hectic. For a week I did not work out or shave! I hope that the first year of the Ph.D. program is the baptism by fire test, that it is the hardest to juggle all the work, because the end was no fun.
But it is over and with very positive results. Most importantly my dissertation seems to be coming into focus, writing about Padre Isla. My secondary/complementary writing list will be about Medieval satire with Prof, Domínguez and my Transatlantic list will be Colonial lit. with Rosa Perelmuter. This means that I have to come up with six reading lists. A primary reading list of twenty books for each list and about thirty secondary/theoretical lists for each topic. Total: give or take 150 books that I have to learn by next Spring to pass my exams, Gadzooks! Yikes!
Taking only three classes, I had time to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill on Monday nights, and I worked at the Clinical Skills Center at the UNC Hospitals

teaching medical students Spanish. Both of these side ventures are a lot of fun and very rewarding and very much needed to clear my head and do something else for a while that is not just studying.
Conclusion: Overall it has been an incredible year and I have learnt much more than I ever expected or hoped. I’ve met some very interesting people, discovered a new town, been more culturally active than I expected, forged some nice relationships and I am slowly rebuilding my life. I’m very happy to be doing this, I love UNC and Chapel Hill.