Taking the pulse south of the border

Hispanic Research Journal
October 6, 2000

The editorial rationale for the introduction of a new high-quality journal in the field of Hispanic studies is based on two premises: there is a worldwide boom in literature and film from the Iberian peninsula and Latin America, and Spanish has established itself as the second language of the world's most powerful nation. The challenge, the editors say, is to take advantage of this interest and to address as broad an audience as possible.

Presumably, the editors refer to a basically academic readership. With that proviso in mind, the subject matter of the first volume breaks down as follows: 11 articles on literature, four on linguistics, and one each on biography, cinema and translation studies. Analysis in terms of Castilian, regional culture and Latin America divides as follows (not counting the articles on linguistics): Castilian eight; Catalan two; Latin American four. This is a reasonably good spread of materials. Methodology is almost entirely innocent of deconstructionism and postmodernism and the like, and instead rests on solid, careful research that does not require a mandarin vocabulary to be read.

Does one attribute the dearth of articles on gender issues, sexuality and culture to a lack of qualified submissions or to a conviction on the part of the editors that such topics would limit the audience? The impression given by volume one is that of a broadly based, conservative journal with high standards as regards to content and an insistence, on the whole, on clear and honest prose.

The editors propose to encourage debates through a section called "Open Forum", which will present controversial topics on literature, linguistics, history and politics. To this end, in the first issue, Roger Wright champions multiple readings of Spanish ballads, arguing that just as in other literary works, it is pointless to insist on a single meaning, because contemporary readers cannot know how the different performers were wont to present the ballad.

Whether or not this is a burning concern remains to be seen, for the Open Forum in issue two was entirely taken over by Leonardo Funes's lengthy discussion of John Dagenais's The Ethics of Reading Manuscript Culture: Glossing the Libro de Buen Amor and the editors, in order to maintain a balance, were forced to bypass the forum until volume two. Although there is always a tendency in these matters to lose the forest for the trees, and one reader's nit-picking is another reader's delight, the forum, if properly handled, could provoke the kind of creative controversy that the field has not had since the great debates between Americo Castro and Claudio S nchez Albornoz. The commissioning of review articles, and the discussion in various fields of what used to be called desiderata, might also be a good way to nourish argument.

A look at selected articles will illustrate more specifically the range of topics. Erica Segre in "Visualizing Mexico: the interplay of Mexican graphic arts and film in the 1930s and 1940s" discusses how the actor-director Emilio Fern ndez struggled to escape from the stereotypes of "mexicanismo a la yanqu!" and the fashionable comedia ranchera, a process made extraordinarily difficult by the presence of the monolithic neighbour to the north and the fact that the establishment of a strong native Mexican tradition in painting and literature was just getting under way. Roger Tinnell and Yara Gonz lez Montes transcribe and append notes to the correspondence from 1922 to 19 between Federico Garc!a Lorca and the Cuban diplomat and writer Jose Mar!a Chac"n y Calvo, who travelled widely throughout Spain and who listened with great emotion to Unamuno reading the poetry of Jose Mart!.

Cathryn Crameri in "The role of translation in contemporary Catalan culture" demonstrates the usefulness of translation studies. Basing herself on the ideas of Gideon Toury, she notes that the large number of translations into Catalan - in 1966, three-quarters of the books published in Catalan were translations - was a sign of cultural immaturity. Later on, Catalonia's attempts to promote the translation of Catalan works into other languages met with limited success because of a lack of demand.

George Lambie's "Intellectuals, ideology and revolution: the political ideas of Cesar Vallejo" is an especially wide-ranging and well-researched article that fosters an understanding of the complexity of Vallejo's Marxism, which in its unwavering sympathy for the proletariat was more in line with his countryman Jose Mari tegui than with Moscow.

This is not to imply a lack of significance of the other articles, but rather to substantiate how wide the journal spreads its nets. There is, for example, an especially strong group of articles on medieval literature and another on linguistics. Future fortune will be determined by how firmly the quality of the pieces can be maintained and how well some meaningful debate and discussion can take place in the forum. It might also be worthwhile considering an enlargement of the book-review section so as to keep readers informed as to what is going on in this worldwide boom in Hispanism, which supposedly helps to justify the journal's existence.

Howard Young is professor of Romance languages, Pomona College, California, United States.

Hispanic Research Journal: Iberian and Latin American Studies: 3 times a year

Editor - Martin Duffell
ISBN - ISSN 1468 37
Publisher - Maney
Price - 96.00 (instits); £36.00 (indivs)

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