Edited by David T. Gies
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 327 pp.
[From Hispania, vol. 82, no. 4, 1999, pp. 764-765.]
Heightened visibility of Spain’s vernacular cultures in the post-Franco era, their attainment for the most part of autonomous political status, and the emerging discipline of cultural studies have all played roles in the impetus for this detailed, yet readable and exceptionally useful volume. Beginning with a six-and-a-half page “Chronology of major events” (covering from 1825 to 1997), the compilation pays attention to a wide range of happenings in music, historiography, politics, literature, pedagogy, theatre, philosophy, dance and ballet, architecture, cinematography, expositions, fairs and exhibitions, censorship, aesthetics and movements, festivals, periodicals, television, museums, art collectives and experimental theatre groups, major prizes, and significant anthologies. A prefatory glossary of five and a half pages contains terms ranging from alta comedia to the confusing siglas of some two dozen important political groups (e.g., C[onfederación] E[spañola] de D[erechos] A[utonómas], and H[erri] B[atasuna], political wing of ETA), and historical terms such as “la Gloriosa” (revolution of 1868). Given that the volume spans two centuries, and incorporates not only Castilian, but Basque and Catalan cultures, plus the growing trend in the second half of the twentieth century to frequently narrow specialization by Hispanists, few readers, indeed, will find themselves able to dispense entirely with the glossary. In light of an already wide-ranging topic, editor Gies has wisely limited the focus: “‘Culture’ will be used here in a restricted sense, one referring to ‘the general body of the arts’ and to ‘the intellectual side of civilization’... but folkloric culture, mass culture, and popular culture— what the Spanish dictionary defines as ‘the traditional life of the people’— are properly the subjects of a different book” (4). Other types of textual apparatus include a ten-page index of proper names and thirteen black-and-white illustrations.
The volume contains twenty-three separate but complementary essays (each with its own bibliography) on Spanish history and on three major cultures of the Peninsula. Although numerous dates of high visibility in the period are covered (e.g., 1898 and 1927), three general historical or chronological markers are selected: 1868, 1936, and 1975. Each of these are seen as marking major political transitions, the change from one kind of political world-view to another: from monarchy to the short-lived first Republic (1868), the outbreak of a destructive civil war (1936), and with the death of Franco, the end of his dictatorship (1975). The essays, which privilege letters but do not focus exclusively on literature, are divided into seven unequal sections, the first subtitled “Culture: center and periphery,” beginning with Stephanie Sieburth’s consideration of the meanings of “modern,” “Spanish,” and “culture.” Three examinations follow: E. Inman Fox discusses nationalism and national identity in relation to Castile and Castilian culture, Teresa M. Vilarós focuses on “Cultural mapping of Catalonia,” and Philip W. Silver attempts to explain the multiple paradoxes of the Basque provinces and culture. Immediately following, under the rubrics of “History, politics and culture,” are three chronologically successive panoramas that treat the periods 1875-1936 (José Álvarez Junco), 1936-75 (Carolyn P. Boyd), and 1875- 1996 (Santos Juliá), all written by historians rather than Hispanists pressed into service to provide a historical overview. “Culture and prose” devotes three of its four sections to narrative: 1868-1936 (Roberta Johnson), 1936-75 (Randolph Pope), and 1975-96 (Jo Labanyi). The fourth examines the relationships of “Culture and the essay in modern Spain” (Thomas Mermall). Poetry is perhaps most thoroughly examined, with three essays that focus on this genre’s relationship to culture in the chronological segments already established: 1868-1936 (Richard A. Cardwell), 1936-75 (Andrew P. Debicki), and 1975-96 (Chris G. Perriam). Two essays delve into the “Culture and theater” equation, with Dru Dougherty examining the period 1868-1936, and Phyllis Zatlin commenting on the next six decades (1936-96). The longest and most diverse section, “Culture and the arts,” features essays on “Painting and sculpture in modern Spain” (José Martín Martínez), “Culture and cinema to 1975” (Kathleen M. Vernon), and the same pairing from 1975-96 (Peter W. Evans), plus “A century of Spanish architecture” (Luis Fernández- Galiano), “Spanish music and cultural identity” (Roger D. Tinnell), and “To live is to dance” (Laura Kumin). The final section contains a single essay, “The media in modern Spanish culture,” by Philip Deacon. Many of the names of the foregoing authors are well known to readers of Hispania, but other literary scholars’ names may not be instantly recognizable, especially those whose affiliations are with institutions in Britain (Cardwell, Deacon, Evans, Labanyi). Specialists in other areas sought out by Gies include (in addition to the aforementioned historians) Fernández-Galiano from Madrid’s School of Architecture; Kumin, who is a contemporary dancer, writer, dance educator and arts administrator, and Martín Martínez, who teaches contemporary art at the University of Valencia.
The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture deserves more detailed commentary than is feasible within the confines of a review, however generous; it contains several splendid essays, and figures among those volumes that promise to become indispensable to their owners. It belongs in every university and public library, and in the libraries of all modern language and literature departments. And those whose last contact with “live” Spanish culture dates from the Franco era would do well to read its sections treating the various aspects of culture from 1975 to the 1990s, for they provide invaluable background on these decades of fast-moving change and dizzying cultural diversification. Perhaps it is in this last aspect, however, that this volume’s limitations are most evident: I find the omission of Galician culture and literature (with roots antedating those of Castilian) especially unfortunate, and more orientation on the other autonomías and their respective cultures (particularly those of Asturias, León, and Aragón, each with its own distinct literature and language or dialect) would have also been most valuable. This reviewer would also have liked to see some attention paid to the changing roles and cultural visibility of women. These caveats, however, are minor in comparison to the usefulness and achievements of an outstanding volume which (in addition to its library and reference usage) might easily become an excellent text for courses in modern Spanish civilization.
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