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!

Wrapping up another semester, #5

Part of the problem with being an eternal optimist is that one always thinks things are going to be easier than they are. This last semester is a good example. The semester started off uphill, with me losing my washer and dryer (see previous post), getting a speeding ticket, and more importantly having to finesse my doctoral committee and getting my prospectus approved.

The exam was on November 7. You can read my previous post about it, but is was at the same time a grueling yet highly enriching experience. That afternoon I celebrated by playing soccer with my colleagues (more on that later) and then by going to see Benjamin Britten’s opera, Curlew River, inspired by the Japanese Noh theater (more on that also later). And of course, after all that by having a drink (or two) at my favorite bar, Zog’s.

After passing my exam I slumped into a bit of a post prospectus depression. My next goal is defending my dissertation, but that is not planned until the Spring of 2016. So all of a sudden I was without an immediate goal. This required some getting used to. I could finally, after three years, watch movies (more on that later), or enjoy dead time. That first Saturday I celebrated with a glorious breakfast at my favorite breakfast place Ye Olde Waffle Shop, and waltzing around Chapel Hill as if I owned it. Stopping at this store and that, hanging out at the old bookstore, and the museum.

As always teaching is my passion and this semester did not disappoint. I taught two sections of Intermediate Spanish 203, one of them in the Philosophy building. This allowed me to enjoy their philosophical bathroom graffiti.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so I soon changed my rhythm and got busy. I talked strategy with my professors to attack the dissertation, Prof. González Espitia named me to be a grad student editor of the department´s literary journal Hispanófila, and I started to prepare my dissertation by re-visiting the first four works of my beloved Padre Isla.

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PROSPECTUS (and its defense)

Apologies for my prolonged silence. Getting my prospectus passed took some time. As you can imagine, maintaining my blog was not a priority. But that hurdle is over with, so I can tell you all about it.

The prospectus as I have said somewhere before is the document that says what you want to write your dissertation about, so it is kind of a big deal. Getting your prospectus approved requires a few pieces to fit together like a good Swiss watch:

First you must get five professors to be your PhD committee*. This step requires strategy, finesse and diplomacy. You want to have experts from your field that know what you are talking about and experts from outside your field that know how you should be talking. You want to make sure that you know these professors and that you can work well with them (and that they can work with each other). I cannot say how blessed I am with my committee, it is an all-star team! Like the 80s Celtics. My director is Irene Gómez-Castellano. I love her enthusiasm, her vision, knowledge and overall awesomeness. We meet once a week for coffee, and those meetings more often than not run well over an hour. During that meeting Irene will go over whatever I have written, whatever I have read, and whatever I have to read and write, and then we connect the dots, and talk strategy.

In alphabetical order my next professor is Frank Domínguez. The guru of Medieval Spanish lit. There is little I can say about him that has not already been said. He literally wrote the book on Medieval Spanish lit. More than that, he is an awesome editor, advisor, and scholar. But most importantly he is the nicest person: patient and understanding.

Juan Carlos González-Espitia is basically the reason I am at UNC. If you go back on my blog to when I visited UNC for the first time, he is the professor that welcomed me, showed me around, and gave me excellent advice. Although Prof. González-Espitia is a well-known 19th C. Latin American scholar, he is now spending more and more time on the 18th C. How lucky could I be? And how perfect for my committee.

Prof. Rosa Perelmuter is an authority on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, I have been working with her for three years now. I love her critical eye, her honest advice and how she knows everything! And to top it all off, she is hilarious.

Ana Rueda is a world renown 18th C Spanish Lit. scholar. She is the head of the department at University of Kentucky. In an uncanny and wise move, Irene asked me to pick up Prof. Rueda at the airport when she came to give a presentation at UNC three years ago. Little did I know that she would one day sit on my PhD committee. Although I have stayed in touch with her since then, to get to know her better, I recently read one of her books: Cartas sin lacrar: la novela epistolar y la España ilustrada, 1789 – 1840. If you scroll down you can see all the places I read her book!

At the same time as your team is set up, your prospectus should be ready. I started working on this document in July so by August I had about 60 pages! I had to cut it down a bit to 40 pages – which is probably still a tad long, but it will all percolate into the dissertation anyway so it is ground already covered. You can find my prospectus attached in case you have problems falling asleep. A couple of pages of this is better than a handful of Ambien!

Of course the real magic happens when you put the dissertation committee in a room with the prospectus and the poor author of said prospectus. For me this happened on Friday. Prof. Rueda came in loud and clear through Skype and there I sat for an hour and a half while we reached two main conclusions: I write like a horse’s ass (which of course was not a surprise for me, sorry if you are reading this) and second, Padre Isla uses more than satire in his work, and I should embrace all his narrative techniques. This second bit is a massive relief as I was having a tough time limiting myself to the satire and I was struggling with the definition of satire.

There you have it, if you are lucky you get to pass your prospectus defense, and move on to writing your dissertation…

(Remember that this is an uncorrected document. If you are going to use it, cite it)

* This is at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Department of Romance Studies

Balson Prospectus 10-1-14

Cartas sin lacrar waiting for Rocinante's check up

Cartas sin lacrar waiting for Rocinante’s check up

Cartas sin lacrar at Five Guys

Cartas sin lacrar at Five Guys

Cartas sin lacrar at the Carolina Inn

Cartas sin lacrar at the Carolina Inn

Summer Summary

Well, I have been so busy writing my thesis prospectus all summer that I have not had time to update this old blog! But the prospectus (the first draft at any rate) is now well on its way after my Thesis Director recommended some corrections today at the Daily Grind Café. But now back to my summer.

The month of June I was in Madrid going to the Biblioteca Nacional every day and getting some phenomenal research accomplished. Some highlights of June were: celebrating my father’s birthday, going to Alfredo’s new place (see previous post), going to Pedro Espina’s new restaurant Soy to say hi to my old friend and Spain’s best sushi chef, my old student Jacob’s visit to Madrid (see previous post), and pretty much every moment spent in the city enjoying the smells and sounds and tapas and sights.

In July I went with my family to our beloved Mediterranean island of Mallorca. As you can read in other year’s posts it is a great time. Very low-key: great breakfasts, beach, poolside lunch, siesta, workout, pool time, nice Mediterranean dinner, a lovely evening walk, and a drink and some reading for me, repeat. This year around my nieces and nephew were one year older, so more fun, and we had the World Cup to follow – despite Spain’s early departure we enjoyed all the underdog teams putting in great performances! Unfortunately we were only in Mallorca for a couple of weeks.

Back in the mainland we went straight to my parent’s house in the countryside (see previous posts about La Navata). If Mallorca is low-key, this is even more low-key, my routine here is a pre-breakfast swim to wake up, breakfast on the porch, walking to the village for bread, newspapers and to have my coffee in the old café, helping my niece and nephew with their Summer homework, (which this year included reading Le Petit Prince with my niece!), hanging out, lunch and siesta, punching out a page of my prospectus, working out, swimming, dinner and drinks, cigars and chatting – or reading, if nobody is around for conversation. The only routine breakers are driving my mom to the market, going to church on Sundays, and occasionally hanging out with old friends. One of these traditional outings is dinner at El Escorial with Paco Navarro. We walk around, eat, enjoy a coffee and then walk around some more. It is one of my favorite outings and one we have not missed in years!

Then my sister asked me to go hang out with her and her kids in the North Shore of Spain while her husband stayed working in Madrid. I took the train – and the harbor taxi, and had a wonderful week with them. They stay in this old manor house in this cute old village and the only choices they have to make is which beach to go to and which restaurant to have lunch at! Paradise.

The last week I was in Spain I received a request from my Medieval Literature Professor to take a photo of a painting in the cathedral at Toledo. I jumped at the opportunity and I spent a wonderful day alone walking around the old imperial city. I had not been to “the Jerusalem of the West” (for the Jewish, Arab and Christian cultures that thrived in the city) in four years and it was wonderful to slip into the many churches and museums alone with no schedule. I had a nice lunch and a coffee overlooking the Tajo River. It was a very healing experience. I don’t think the photo Prof. Domínguez asked me for came out very well, but still, the excursion was worth it for me.

But by August 5 I was back in old Chapel Hill wrapping up my prospectus and settling down… And now I am back in school teaching two sections of intermediate Spanish 203 and happy to be in my quiet monastic life.

Dad's birthday lunch!

Dad’s birthday lunch!

Breakfast w Jimmy

Breakfast w Jimmy

Chiringuito Camp de Mar

Chiringuito Camp de Mar

20140629_211219 Camp de Mar

Always reading

Reading in Santander

Dinner at El Escorial OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the photographer's dog!

With the photographer’s dog!

Camp de Mar

Walking back from the beach

Walking back from the beach

Harbor taxi!

Harbor taxi!

Lunch?

Lunch?

at the Cinco calderas

at the Cinco calderas

Las cinco calderas

Las cinco calderas

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

Summer field research

Maria's First Communion!

Maria’s First Communion!

It's all their fault!!

It’s all their fault!!

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

"Uptown" Madrid

“Uptown” Madrid

Alfredo's Barbacoa

Alfredo’s Barbacoa

Niece and Nephew

Niece and Nephew

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Madrid. It has been intense, full of family: my sister was here from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and my niece had her first communion. Being home also means that my way of life is totally different and I also have a physical and temporal distance from the end of the academic year at Carolina.

My way of life is different in that I go from living a fairly monastic life alone, dedicated to reading, to a life full of family and friends. The food is fortunately different and better, the coffee and the wine are far better, and I live in downtown Madrid as opposed to downtown Chapel Hill, which, as much as I love it, is a glorified village. Last Sunday was my niece (and goddaughter’s) first communion, and we had a very nice celebratory lunch with all the family. As I was at the buffet serving myself, a very nice lady in her horseback riding gear (the lunch was at a riding club) introduced herself. She was my ex-wife’s old massage therapist from when we used to live in Madrid ten years ago! It was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, so I just chuckled to myself and carried on. I have also visited with family, taken my nieces and nephew out to lunch to Alfredo’s Barbacoa, my favorite burger joint. I have had lunch with dear friends and enjoyed some brief escapes around town, including my favorite bar Del Diego, and some favorite book stores.

Although my exams are over, I now have to prepare the prospectus for my thesis, which means… more reading, this time in my specialization area as I formulate the core of my thesis. When I arrived, I already had books waiting for me that I had ordered to be delivered here for the summer, I also had a chance to renew my library card. My library is a bit special as it is the National Library which is only a twenty-minute walk from here. It is the equivalent of the Library of Congress, only older. I have the privilege of walking over every morning and reading original 18th C manuscripts! Speaking of bumping into people, the other day at the library I shared a reading desk with Margaret Greer, a Professor of Golden Age Spanish Lit. at Duke. Unfortunately I was not wearing my Carolina blue, although we did have a nice chat – yes, we whispered. I am excited and looking forward to making some progress on the prospectus front so I can have a rough draft by the end of the summer…

Reviewing my teaching of this past year, (see previous blog post) my dear friend John Jenner: philosopher, connoisseur, MMA fighter, bon vivant, gourmet and gourmand explained it best when he valued my being pushed out of my comfort zone in order to do precisely this, to revisit my teaching. You gotta love friends that tell it like it is!

Granada

Olive trees in Antequera

Olive trees in Antequera

With Catherine

With Catherine

Snails

Snails

Backlit snails

Backlit snails

Cathedral

Cathedral

Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Casa San Juan de Dios

Casa San Juan de Dios

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Santa Ana y Alhambra

Old Granada

Old Granada

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Walnut Hill 2010 Spain Trip reunion

Sierra Nevada in the back

Sierra Nevada in the back

The last time I jumped on a train in Spain for some alone time was in 2010. A lot has happened since and I needed some time to be alone and enjoy this beautiful country. So I booked train tickets and I set off to Granada, the enchanted Moorish city of the South, home of Federico García Lorca, final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabel, inspiration for Washington Irving´s Tales of the Alhambra, and home to Europe´s Southernmost ski station, Sierra Nevada.

Some of the more noticeable changes in Spain in the last twenty years have been in infrastructure: Highways and railroads. Long gone are those creaky, smelly, shaking, trains, replaced by smooth, clean, and fast ones. The award winning Talgo technology – whereby the train “swings” in the turns allowing for a speedier, smoother ride now run on the high speed train rails. While not technically high speed, they do run quite fast. Making the Madrid to Granada trip in four hours where before eight would have been normal!

I love trains. I love enjoying the view while reading, listening to music or enjoying a nice cup of coffee. I love seeing the changes in the countryside as we speed along: now vines, now olive trees, now hills and rocky ridges. Tired and lazy I jumped into a cab for the five minute ride to the hotel. Right downtown, next to the beautiful Renaissance cathedral and the old Moorish town. The hotel, a 1920’s tile covered building has an old indoor patio.

I met up for dinner with Catherine Keller, a dear old student from my Walnut Hill days who is spending her summer in Granada with her Fordham University program. We went to the classic old Café Sevilla where we enjoyed great tapas and raciones – sharing plates. Including salmorejo (a concentrated type of gazpacho), and caracoles – snails!

Saturday morning, after a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, I hit the used book stores in the old part of town, and… Bingo! I found a trove of books that I needed for my reading list for my Ph.D. exam next Spring. The morning flew by while my bag grew heavier with books. Lunch was – as it should be – a leisurely affair, including, after coffee, a nice cigar and a Tanqueray Tonic while I continued reading my dear Fray Gerundioˡ. After a siesta it was time for vespers, as I knew I would not have time for mass on Sunday. I showed up at the beautiful Santa Ana church a while before mass, only to find that a wedding was finishing. It was all very beautiful, they had hired a four horse carriage, and the flowers in the church were delightful.

For dinner I met up with Catherine and Jenny – who I had seen in Madrid a few weeks ago, but was visiting Granada with her Mount Holyoke program from Valencia. So we had a mini Walnut Hill, 2010 Spain trip reunion with a lot of laughs.

Sunday morning, refreshed from my visit to old Granada, and with my bag a few pounds heavier, I jumped on the train back to Madrid.

First year Ph.D. essays

As  promised, here are my essays from my first year of Ph.D. Warning, Caveat Emptor, Aviso a navegantes: These are ROUGH DRAFTS, BORRADORES, no edits, no corrections, unfiltered, organic, and full of impurities (errors), read at your own risk, you have been warned, these writings are not fit to publish (yet).

El prólogo a las Novelas amorosas y ejemplares de María de Zayas y Sotomayor

Torrente a XX Century Quixote

JORGE MANRIQUE y Alsonso de Cervantes

Early Modern Prologues

DIA GRANDE DE NAVARRA